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A Recipe for Everything: Ranch Dressing

Like so many great recipes, ranch dressing came about in a farmstead kitchen—specifically, Gayle and Steve Henson’s kitchen at their dude ranch outside Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1954.

by John D. IvankoMarch 14, 2012

Ranch dressing with carrots for dipping
Photo by John Ivanko

Like so many great recipes, ranch dressing came about in a farmstead kitchen—specifically, Gayle and Steve Henson’s kitchen at their dude ranch outside Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1954. Their place was called Hidden Valley Ranch, of course. While coming for the horseback rides, many of their guests left with bottles of the owners’ special salad dressing prepared with buttermilk, mayonnaise and herbs.

The Henson’s dressing became so popular that the owners ended up building an enterprise around it, creating Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning packets for retail sale across the country. To make the salad dressing, they relied on people getting their own mayo and buttermilk locally.

Then, like so many other food enterprises at the time, the Clorox Company bought the Hidden Valley Ranch brand that eventually became the processed and bottled shelf-stable salad dressing found on supermarket shelves everywhere today. Yep, the same company that brings us Pine-Sol and Liquid-Plumr, also bring us a salad dressing made with ingredients like monosodium glutamate, artificial flavors and calcium disodium enthylenediaminetetraacetate (or calcium disodium EDTA, for short). (The last ingredient helps preserve the bottled dressing’s “freshness” on the shelf for months upon months.)

Since 1992, ranch dressing generally has emerged as the most popular dressing in the nation according to the Association for Dressings and Sauces. It toppled vinaigrette-based Italian, if you’re wondering. And ranch dressing has become ubiquitous, used in everything from ranch-flavored potato chips and fast-food entrees to the condiment of choice for sandwich wraps of all kinds.

You can skip the processed version that’s loaded with preservatives and other mystery ingredients and make your own ranch dressing, like Gayle and Steve Henson once did on their ranch. Sticking with organic ingredients will help keep the pesticides out, too. We use sour cream from Organic Valley Family of Farms, Spectrum organic mayonnaise, and spices from Frontier Coop.

Ranch dressing works well both in salads and as a versatile dipping sauce for fresh veggies or prepared foods, such as fritters and tempura. There’s nothing like freshly harvested carrots from your gardens dipped in a little ranch. We’ve discovered, as most parents have, that kids will eat more fresh, raw vegetables, like carrots or broccoli, when there’s something to dip them in. The dressing is best to make the day before you need it to fully release the flavors.

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Try out our ranch dressing recipe below, and leave us a comment telling us your favorite way to use this beloved condiment.

Ranch Dressing & Dipping Sauce
from Farmstead Chef (New Society Publishers, 2011)

Yield: 1 cup


  • 1/2 tsp. parsley (dried)
  • 1/2 tsp. dill (dried)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup water

In a small bowl, combine parsley, dill, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. In a large bowl, whisk mayonnaise, sour cream and water. Add spice mixture to mayonnaise mixture and blend well.

Savoring the good life,

John and Lisa's Signatures

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