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07/21/2013

~ Mel's "Happy Valley" Ranch-Style Salad Dressing ~

IMG_0128A little over 50 years ago no one had ever heard of ranch dressing and now it is America's most popular salad dressing.  We do much more than top our salads with it too.  It is our dip of choice for vegetables, a marinade for our meat or poultry, and, a flavoring in our favorite brands of corn and potato chips.  I buy very little bottled salad dressing in general (although I do keep a bottle of Wish-Bone Light Italian in my refrigerator at all times), but, when my boys were small, I was one of those mom's who kept a stack of Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning packets in my pantry at all times.  Why?  Like many of you, it was the only way I could get my kids to eat their vegetables.

ImagesA bit about ranch dressing:  It is a wholly American invention with a bona fide rags-to-riches story.  In 1954, Nebraska-born Steve Henson (once a homeless child of the Great depression, former plumbing contractor and a cook in Alaska) and his wife Gayle, bought the sprawling, picturesque, 120-acre Sweetwater Ranch in Santa Barbarba, CA.  They renamed it Hidden Valley, opened a guest-type dude ranch and attempted to live out their life's dream of entertaining and cooking for their paying guests. But, due to the remote location and lack of funds for advertising, Henson found himself facing bankruptcy.  One thing the few guests he did have left the ranch talking about was:  the salad dressing.  Henson had developed the recipe back in Alaska: a garlicky emulsion of mayonnaise, buttermilk, herbs and spices.

Hvr_packetHenson knew how popular his dressing was when guests started asking to purchase jars of it to take home with them, but, it wasn't until one of them asked to take 300 bottles back to Hawaii that he saw a business opportunity.  Henson didn't have 300 jars, so he took a few hours to package his dry spice blend in a bunch of envelopes.  He instructed his customer to mix each envelope with 1-quart of buttermilk and 1-quart of mayonnaise.

In 1964, Henson closed his ranch to guests and entered into the salad dressing business full-time.  He assembled a small team of workers in his home and developed a small-scale mail-order business that mailed 75-cent packets of Hidden Valley salad dressing mix to the local community.  It wasn't long before he moved into a controlled facility that produced 35,000 packets every eight hours.  In 1972, Henson sold his business to Clorox and the rest is history.

Mel's "Happy Valley" verson of  Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing:

IMG_0129I developed my own version of these beloved seasoning packets here in my Happy Valley, PA kitchen to rival the original.  I must have done a pretty good job, because every time I make this dressing there is rarely any leftover and almost everyone asks me for the recipe.  It is a requested favorite at our Penn State tailgate every year.  If you have the time, prepare it a day before you serve it, to give all of the great flavors time to marry with the mayonnaise and buttermilk.

Can you add fresh ingredients (minced chives, parsley, garlic and onion) to it?  Well of course you can, and I often do, but, I add them as flavor enhancers after the fact, not in place of the dry spices and herbs.  Why?  Because, like Steve Henson, I like to make and keep a few small ziplock bags of my pre-mixed dry mixture on hand in my pantry at all times.

PICT2048For the dry spice blend:

1  teaspoon dried, minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon dried, minced onion

PICT21411  tablespoon dried chives (Note:  Dried chives are not pictured above because Joe dries chives from our garden for me and they are in a large mason jar that didn't fit nicely into this photo.)

1  teaspoon dried parsley

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon celery salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

For the additions:

1  cup buttermilk  (Note:  As directed below, if this dressing is refrigerated for several hours or overnight, it will thicken to a creamy consistency, which I consider the perfect consistency for both dipping and drizzling.  However, if you want a thicker, scoopable consistency, substitute sour cream in place of some of or all of the buttermilk.)

1  cup mayonnaise

IMG_0093 IMG_0084~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, place mayonnaise and all of the dry spices as listed.  Add the buttermilk.

IMG_0105~ Step 2. Whisk until mixture is smooth and drizzley.

IMG_0110~ Step 3.  Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate for several hours or overnight, until nicely thickened (for perfect taste and consistency, overnight is best).

Note:  Dressing may be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week (or the shelf life of the expiration date on the buttermilk).  If fresh ingredients are added, the shelf-life is shortened to 3 days.  For this reason, I stir any fresh ingredients in 1-2 hours prior to serving.

Stir prior to serving chilled:

IMG_0148Mel's "Happy Valley" Ranch-Style Salad Dressing:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups.

Special Equipment List:  medium mixing bowl; whisk; 4-cup food storage container w/lid

PICT2070Cook's Note:  Don't be afraid to create other salad dressings from my Happy Valley ranch dressing -- I sure have!  You can find my recipe for ~ Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad Dressing ~ in Categories 1, 2, 8, 10, 19, or 20.  It's great served with steak and a big favorite with chicken wings too!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 

Comments

Teresa! It never occurred to me to use this as a dressing for potato salad. Why didn't I think of it? Because you did! Thank-you my friend!

Mel, it was a balmy 45-50 degrees in central Ohio over the weekend that gave me a weird hankering for ranch potato salad. I used your dressing recipe, with some sour cream along with the buttermilk, and it was as good as potato salad gets. :)

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