Whether you prefer it as a dip or a dressing, Ranch smothers vegetables and chicken wings alike across America every day. Today is no exception, as March 10 is officially designated as “Ranch Dressing Day” by Hidden Valley itself.
Recipes for buttermilk-based dressing date back as far as the 1930s, with most examples coming from dairy farms in Texas and the Midwest, but it was an Alaskan plumber who put Ranch as we know it on the map.
Steve Henson worked as a plumbing contractor in the Alaskan bush in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, and he made it a hobby to cook for his co-workers. Henson carried some of those recipes and culinary ideas with him when he opened Hidden Valley Ranch alongside his wife, Gayle, in 1954.
Situated on 120 acres outside of Santa Barbara, California, Hidden Valley Ranch soon became known more for the jars of buttermilk salad dressing that guests carried home than anything else. The dressing was extremely perishable, however, which led to Henson putting together mix-it-yourself packets of spices meant to be combined with buttermilk and mayonnaise. When guests routined cleared out Henson’s stock, the operation expanded to mail-order deliveries and a fully-fledged factory.
In 1972, the couple sold the Hidden Valley brand and recipe to Clorox for a cool $8 million. The company developed the shelf-stable Ranch we see in stores in 1983, and by 1992 Hidden Valley’s Ranch overtook Lipton’s Italian dressing as the most popular dressing in the United States – a title that Ranch retains to this day.
Americans consume well over $400 million worth of Ranch every year, but somehow Ranch remains relatively unknown outside of North America. Perhaps it’s just a matter of spreading the gospel, or maybe Ranch is as unique a flavor to the United States as “all-dressed” is to Canada. Either way, one thing is for sure: Ranch is here to stay.
If you’re itching to make your own Ranch-style dressing at home, it’s surprisingly easy! You’ll only need a few things, and alterations to taste are simple to make when you’re mixing up liquids in a Mason jar.
1 cup of buttermilk
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
(If you’d like to go fully authentic, you can make your own mayonnaise by combining 1 egg, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper and 1 cup of vegetable oil in a blender or food processor)
That’s your creamy dairy base, the savory centerpiece all that well-loved Ranch flavor is going build off of. Optional ingredients include a ½ teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a dash of vinegar-based hot sauce. Adding either of those (or both) will help cut through some of the cream and highlight your herbs and spices, which are:
1-2 cloves finely minced garlic
1 teaspoon tarragon
1 tablespoon dill
1 tablespoon finely-chopped parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
½ teaspoon celery salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
You also have options aplenty here to dress up your dressing, like adding 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce or a dash of smoked paprika. Ranch is an exceedingly adaptable base, as we already know, so don’t be afraid to experiment to suit your own palate.