Take a trip to the ranch

Few things fascinate me as much as food history. It’s always interesting to find out the origins of food, and usually the stories say as much about the people as they do the foodstuff themselves. Julia Moskin recently dived deep into the history of an iconic American food: ranch dressing.

Unlike many other foods, the history of ranch dressing isn’t in doubt, and an actual ranch – yes, Hidden Valley Ranch – is involved. In case you aren’t familiar with this salad dressing, Moskin’s description should point you in the right direction. “It’s a combination of creaminess (from buttermilk, sour cream, sometimes mayonnaise) and herbaceousness (often parsley, thyme, dill), plus a long pull of allium (onion and garlic) and a shot of black pepper,” she explains. 

The dressing was invented in the 1950s by Steve Henson, a plumber who came up with the dressing mix (which uses commonly available dried herbs) while working as a construction worker, where he also served as occasional cook for his coworkers. Henson and his wife bought a rundown ranch in California and renamed it Hidden Valley Ranch. In 1954 they opened it as a guest ranch, but it became more well-known as  a steakhouse, with Steve’s dressing a favorite menu item. 

At the request of customers, the Hensons began selling the dry herb mix so patrons could recreate the condiment at home. At that point, there was no looking back. The combination of herbs and spices were quickly assimilated into products well beyond salad dressing, including dips, as a coating for tortilla chips (Cool Ranch Doritos), and even as a controversial topping for pizza. There are even entire restaurants dedicated to the flavors of ranch dressing. 

Although people have attempted to elevate the dressing by substituting fresh herbs for the dried, many fans prefer the original combination. Sometimes nostalgia wins in the flavor department. 

Image of DIY ranch mix  from The Kitchn

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  • Rinshin  on  September 24, 2018

    My husband's must have dressing for himself unless I dress the salads before serving.

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