~ Happy Valley Spinach Dip for Your Vegetable Tray ~
In the mid-1950's and throughout the '60's, everybody who entertained was serving French onion dip with their celery and carrot sticks. This simple concoction of Lipton dehydrated onion soup mix and sour cream was a year-round staple on picnic and cocktail tables. Said to have been created by an unknown French cook somewhere in Los Angeles in 1954, as a kid, I loved the stuff. In the 1970's, due to the invention of dehydrated ranch-dressing packets, another dip began appearing at gatherings all across America: Hidden Valley Ranch spinach dip. As a young bride, I loved the stuff. Throughout the 1980's, as a mom, I used it as an enticement to attempt to get my kids to eat fresh vegetables. Truth told, the less of it they ate equated to more for me.
Ranch dressing packets quickly became a staple in home kitchens everywhere. Over time, I created my own copycat version of these beloved seasoning packets here in my Happy Valley, PA kitchen. I must have done a pretty good job, because every time I make my spinach dip someone asks for my recipe. It's the dip-of-choice at our Penn State tailgate every Fall, and, it's on my Memorial Day munchie menu this afternoon. If you have the time, prepare it a day ahead, to give all of the great flavors time to marry. If you are inclined to make the spice blend from scratch (recipe below), you can make small adjustments to my recipe to suit your palate. That said, whether the spice blend is home-concocted or out of a store-bought packet, there is no comparison between the flavor of my at-home made spinach dip and the pre-made under-seasoned glop sold in plastic containers in the deli-cases of most grocery stores.
The hidden history of Ranch Dressing & Ranch Dip:
A 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 Barbara, 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 at the ranch were talking about: his salad dressing. Henson had developed the recipe back in Alaska: a garlicky emulsion of mayonnaise, buttermilk, dried herbs and spices.
Henson 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, they developed ranch dip packets, and, the rest is history.
My Happy Valley version of the Hidden Valley ranch dip packet:
1 teaspoon dried, minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried, minced onion
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
2 cups sour cream or mayo, or, a combination of both
2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained, about 1 1/2 cups
1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained, patted dry and small diced, about 3/4 cup
1 4-ounce jar sliced pimientos, drained and small diced, 1/2 cup
~ Step 1. I can think of many instances to use fresh spinach, but spinach dip is not one of them -- frozen chopped spinach yields the right amount every time and there is no need to cook it. Thaw the spinach overnight in the refrigerator or in a colander placed in the sink with cold water dribbling over it. Once thawed, wad the spinach up in several layers of paper towels and squeeze it as hard as possible to remove as much liquid as possible. Kept tightly covered in the refrigerator this task can be done a day in advance.
~ Step 2. Drain and dice the water chestnuts. Wad them up in some paper towels and pat and press them dry too. Allow the pimientos to drain on a paper-towel-lined plate, then dice them about the same size as the water chestnuts.
~ Step 3. Place the spice blend, along with the sour cream and/or mayo, water chestnuts and pimientos in a 2-quart size food storage container. Give the mixture a thorough stir. Using your fingertips, pull the spinach into small, loose, bits and pieces, adding them to the bowl as you work. Thoroughly stir the spinach into the dip. Cover and refrigerate 4-6 hours or overnight, to allow the flavors to marry. Overnight is best.
No bread bowl please -- I dislike crumbs in my leftovers.
Special Equipment List: paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; paper towels; 2-quart food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; large spoon
Cook's Note: While I do not like versions of spinach dip containing cream cheese, I do like high-quality block cheeses, cheese logs or homemade cheese dips served alongside my spinach dip. For a cheesy spread that pairs perfectly with spinach dip, vegetables and crackers, check out my recipe for ~ Southern Comfort: Classic Pimento Cheese Spread ~.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)