Ranch dressing wouldn’t exist with out plumbers, MSG and the Alaska Territory

Steven Henson, a Nebraska native who created ranch dressing, invented the now-ubiquitous condiment after moving to Anchorage in 1949 and taking a job as a plumber in the Alaskan bush. (Getty Images)

(NEXSTAR) – Ranch dressing might have been popularized on a California ranch, but it was enjoyed by hungry plumbers in Alaska long before any “ranch” went down in history.

Steven Henson, a Nebraska native who created ranch dressing, invented the now-ubiquitous condiment after moving to Anchorage in 1949 and taking a job as a plumber in the Alaskan bush, according to a biography by Henson published in the Santa Barbara Independent. Henson invented the recipe for what was later dubbed “ranch” dressing somewhat out of necessity, the outlet reported, after taking a supporting role in the kitchen while “trying to keep his hungry work teams happy.” “.

“It’s hard to feed men in these bush jobs,” Henson once remarked in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, according to an archived article cited by Tedium. “If they don’t like something, they’re just as likely to throw it at the cook as they are to walk away cursing. I had to figure out something to keep them happy,” he added, noting that ranch dressing “was born” during this time in what was then the Alaska Territory.

Henson reportedly had enough money saved for retirement within a few years. He and his wife moved to California in the mid-1950s, where they bought 120 acres of land in the mountains near Santa Barbara (then Sweetwater Ranch, according to the Independent) and renamed it “Hidden Valley Ranch.”

“Actually, I wouldn’t call it a ranch,” recalled Alan Barker, a former Hidden Valley Ranch employee, speaking to CBS Sunday morning in 2021. “There were no animals, there were no crops. It was a motel in the mountains.”

By most accounts, Henson’s “ranch” didn’t draw many guests. But those who visited reportedly raved about the dressing at the on-site restaurant, and some “asked Steve for jars of his ranch dressing to enjoy at home with their friends and family,” according to the dressing’s own record -Brand Hidden Valley Ranch.

“From what I remember it was buttermilk, Miracle Whip, some spices, and I think some chopped shallots — and then the top-secret ingredient: pure MSG,” Barker told CBS News. (Barker also claimed in a previous interview with the LA Times that the dressing called for “buttermilk and mayonnaise,” making no specific mention of Miracle Whip. Henson, meanwhile, had long before admitted to using MSG in the ranch packages he would eventually sell.)

Henson soon became more focused on the dressing than the ranch. He made it available to a local restaurant (the still-operating Cold Spring Tavern) and began making dry spice packets that were sold off-site and later through the mail. Customers only had to mix the contents of the packets with buttermilk and mayonnaise to have their own Hidden Valley Ranch dressing at home.

Henson’s business took off in the late ’60s and early ’70s, after which the Clorox Company offered Henson $8 million for the entire operation, the Santa Barbara Independent reported. Finally, in the ’80s, Clorox developed a long-life bottled version of Hidden Valley Ranch — rather than just a dry mix — that could be shipped to retail stores.

The debut of Cool Ranch Doritos in 1986 gave the product another boost (although it’s not affiliated with the Clorox Company) and is credited with introducing the idea of ​​ranch dressing as a dip, citing The New York Times reported in 2018 to the author of a then-new tome on ranch dressing.

Henson himself sold the physical Hidden Valley Ranch in 1973 but retained properties in Palm Springs, California and Sparks, Nevada. According to an obituary in the Reno-Gazette Journal, he died in Reno in 2007, which means he sadly didn’t live to see the invention of ranch dressing, or ranch dressing ice cream.

Still, Henson once remarked to the LA Times that he could never have imagined the path his life would take after he mixed up a load of dressing in the Alaskan bush.

“What started almost as fun has turned into a multimillion-dollar industry,” Henson said.

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