Love in the Time of Ranch Dressing
This is an ode, a tribute, a declaration to my first love: ranch dressing.
The versatile sauce can be used for an endless amount of things—from pizza, to chicken wings, to vegetables, to hashbrowns, and everything in between. It has earned its fame in the form of tattoos, chip flavours, viral videos of people drinking it, and even a mini keg filled with it. And why not? Ranch is the best condiment known to man.
Ranch has always been my sauce of choice—at parties (veggie sticks!), after a night out (pizza!), or during a night in (veggies sticks and pizza!). The zing, the creaminess, the herbs—the joy it brings me is almost incomparable to anything. It’s the longest I’ve ever been committed to something, and it has never let me down.
I will go to great lengths to have ranch on my plate; I’ve been called out many times by friends as loving ranch more than, say, the pizza I’ve drowned in it. I once carried a full bottle of ranch in my purse during a date, just in case I needed it—he didn’t quite understand, and needless to say we’re no longer together. It’s known to everyone in my life that it’s me and ranch until the very end.
And it turns out I have a worldly thinker named Steve Henson to thank for this love affair of mine. A plumber by trade, he first created a version of the dressing while working construction in Alaska around the early 1950s; he was sometimes in charge of cooking for his coworkers as well (incredibly generous, right? Of course this magical sauce was made out of love and selflessness), and came up with the recipe on one of those days.
Now, since a lot of people aren’t exactly sure what ingredients make up my beloved ranch, I’ve decided to lay out the basics (though recipes do vary). Just call me Steve Henson.
- ¾ cups buttermilk
- 3 tablespoons sour cream
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- Some dill, parsley, black pepper, and garlic
- ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Interestingly, most of the original ingredients were used in dried form, which is part of what gives ranch its distinct tang. “Any home cook can make a lovely, full-flavored ranch dressing using real garlic, freshly ground black pepper and bright green herbs,” Julia Moskin writes in The New York Times. “But the particular flavor of traditional ranch can only be achieved with the dry versions of all those aromatics: garlic and onion powder, dried herbs, powdered pepper and buttermilk.” That’s because fresh ingredients were rare in Alaska at the time. So Henson had to make due with what was available—and he sure did.
After his stint in Alaska, Henson and his wife moved to a California ranch and named it Hidden Valley. Yes, the very same Hidden Valley Ranch you’re thinking of—it’s a real place. It became a guesthouse with a restaurant that served, among other things, Henson’s dressing creation; eventually, it became so popular that the Hensons sold it to Clorox, which now owns and produces all the Hidden Valley products on the market. Today, true ranch fans can try the original recipe in the cutest old-school restaurant (the first place outside the ranch to ever sell it) called Cold Spring Tavern in Santa Barbara. New bucket-list item for sure.
Ranch has reportedly been America’s top-selling salad dressing since 1992, with Hidden Valley alone pulling in hundreds of millions in revenue per year. So to say it’s beloved is an understatement; it’s basically part of the foundation on which our happiness is built.
That mix of buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, and herbs—there’s truly nothing else like it. And although it may be best if you don’t think about what ingredients are actually in ranch dressing while eating it, you can definitely think of the sweet, sweet joy it brings your tastebuds. And you can think of Steve Henson. Always Steve Henson.