Today is National Ranch Dressing Day. Just what is Ranch Dressing? That’s a fair question for those outside the United States and Canada. While we love it and know it well, beyond the northern half of North America, Ranch Dressing is almost unknown. At it’s core, Ranch Dressing is a buttermilk based salad dressing.
The story of Ranch Dressing is a strange one. Back in the late 1940s a Nebraska Cowboy had dreams of fortune out west. Kenneth Henson and his wife, Gayle, headed to Alaska, where he worked at a contract plumber for Alaskan Oil. Part of his duties included cooking for the crew. Why the plumber was also the company cook isn’t clear. Anyway, Henderson realized getting his fellow workers to eat their vegetables would require some creativity on his part. That’s when Henson came up with his signature dressing. Not only was it great on a salad, but could be used as a vegetable dip or added to baked potatoes. The sky was the limit.
Henson and his wife had enough of Alaska, and three years later they bought a dude ranch near Santa Barbara, California. It’s not clear exactly when or why, but sometime around their move to the dude ranch, Kenneth changed his name to Steve. The Hensons named their ranch Hidden Valley. It was at the dude ranch that his dressing really took off. The demand for Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing was so great that they created a dry package mix that only required the home cook to add buttermilk. The original powdered mix contained salt, MSG, dehydrated garlic, parsley, onion, black pepper and calcium stearate (whatever that is), creating a shelf-stable alternative to Henson’s ever-present vat of buttermilk. In the beginning, the Hensons sold their packaged dry mix to local grocery outlets, and word spread. In no time at all, their dry mix shipping business expanded all around the country.
The Hensons sold the ranch in the early 1970s, then sold both the dressing brand name and recipe to Clorox for eight-million in 1973. It was Clorox that tweaked the pre-packaged mix, adding a dry buttermilk flavoring, that brought the powdered version a bit closer to the original with the added convenience of being made with milk rather than buttermilk. Then in 1983 Clorox devised a shelf-stable ready-to-pour bottled version of Hidden Valley Ranch Buttermilk Dressing.
Thank you to the cowboy and his wife who hoped to strike it rich in Alaska. Thank you to dude ranch life and the real gold of thinking outside the box. Have a wonderful Ranch Dressing Day!
Perfect Hidden Valley Roasted Potatoes
2 lbs small Red Potatoes, quartered
1/4 cup Vegetable Oil
1-1/2 tablespoons Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Mix (dry)
Heat oven to 450-degrees. Oil a large casserole baking sheet with a thin coat of olive oil. Set aside.
Scrub potatoes, cut in half or quarters depending upon style. Place potatoes in a 1-gallon zip-lock bag. Add vegetable oil, seal shut and shake to coat potatoes in oil.
Add powdered Ranch Dressing Mix, shake well again to coat potatoes in powder.
Empty potatoes onto the prepared baking sheet. Place in the heated oven and roast for about 30 minutes until golden, crisp yet tender, turning the potatoes about half way through for even browning.
Perfect with breaded chicken breasts and steamed broccoli for a beautiful family supper.