Ranch dressing was created in the 1950s by a plumbing contractor named Steve Henson, who whipped up the original recipe while working in the Alaskan wilderness. Years later, he and his wife Gayle moved to California to start a dude ranch that would become very well known: Hidden Valley Ranch.
In 1949, Henson (at the time named Kenneth) moved from Nebraska to Alaska to work as a plumbing contractor. In the evenings, he also cooked for his team, and during that time he worked on a recipe for a buttermilk dressing, tweaking and refining it over several years.
He and Gayle moved out of Alaska in 1954, opening up a dude ranch just outside of Santa Barbara, California. Steve’s refined recipe became the house dressing, and people loved it (almost too much). Requests for the dressing outnumbered bookings for actual stays at the ranch, and the Hensons sent visitors packing with to-go bottles. Even that wouldn’t satisfy the fans.
To meet demand they created dry packets of dressing that can be shipped to customers and mixed with buttermilk. With that, Hidden Valley Ranch became ground zero for salad dressing production, and the dude ranch took a back seat.
The ranch property was eventually sold by Steve in 1970, and three years later Clorox bought Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing for $8 million. The recipe was scaled, tweaked and made shelf-friendly, and by 1992 it overtook Italian as America’s most popular dressing. Chicken wings, carrots, broccoli and pizza would never be the same - all thanks to an ambitious frontiersman plumber.