Originally published in Edible Alaska
Invented by plumber-turned-entrepreneur Steve Henson, ranch dressing can trace its origins all the way to rural Alaska. Fulfilling their own version of manifest destiny, Henson and his wife, Gayle, moved from Nebraska to the last frontier in 1949, where he found himself working as a plumbing contractor in the Alaska bush. Because of the remote location, Henson pulled double duty as a cook in order to feed his crew. In an effort to get them to enjoy the salads they were being served, he made an experimental dressing with ingredients he had on hand: buttermilk, mayonnaise, and a handful of herbs and spices. Sure enough, the workers ate their vegetables.
“It’s tough to feed men up in those bush jobs. If they don’t like something, they’re as likely to throw it at the cook as they are to walk out cursing. I had to come up with something to keep them happy,” Henson told Los Angeles Times’ Sergio Ortiz in a 1999 interview about the conception and history of ranch dressing. “And it was then, in Alaska, that what’s now known as ranch dressing came into being.”
Today this quintessentially American condiment that is equal parts creamy and tangy has been used on salads, as dips, and even on pizzas, for nearly 50 years.
Henson and his wife lived and worked in Alaska for three years before moving on to California, where they purchased Sweetwater Ranch in 1954. Changing the name to Hidden Valley, the dude ranch became a popular gathering place where the Hensons served food accompanied by Steve’s crew-pleasing, dairy-rich concoction. The condiment grew so popular at Hidden Valley that Steve and Gayle began charging 75 cents for powdered ranch-mix envelopes that were in high demand all across the country.
Today Hidden Valley Ranch, whose commercials depict a sort of promised land where children frolic in fields of green and eat their vegetables with enthusiasm, is owned by Clorox. But there’s no doubt the utopian ideal that Hidden Valley has created is still alive for some children who can’t get enough of the gooey, dairy-packed dressing. Henson sold the brand and product for $8 million in 1973 and the dressing was made shelf-friendly, allowing it to be sold in stores across the country and become an American staple.
Ranch dressing, as American as white picket fences and baseball, is America’s go-to for all things dipped and smothered. As the number one dressing shipped to U.S. food service outlets, ranch flavor nearly doubles the volume of the runner up (blue cheese), according to a report published in 2014 by The NPD Group, a leading global consumer market research firm.
Of course ranch dressing(along with seemingly just about everything else these days) has a day dedicated to it. If you’re looking to celebrate, March 10 is the day to indulge by smothering your spring greens in the creamy, piquant, and thick Alaskan-born creation that is ranch.
Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
It’s easy to create your own tangy and creamy ranch dressing. Perfect for topping fresh greens and spring salads. Fresh herbs and good-quality dairy products enhance this recipe, giving you a more refined and sophisticated take on America’s favorite salad dressing.
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 3 tablespoons of fresh minced parsley
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of fresh minced dill
- 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- In a large bowl, thoroughly mix all ingredients except for buttermilk.
- Once ingredients are mixed well, slowly add in buttermilk. Stir until all buttermilk has been added and all ingredients are combined.
- Refrigerate for approximately two hours, then taste and adjust seasonings as necessary before serving. Seal and refrigerate for up to one week.