In 1954 Steve and Gayle Henson purchased a ranch off Highway 154 near the Painted Caves. You can see it from the 154—it’s a house in a valley with a black and white roof. It was called Sweetwater Ranch back then, a name which Henson didn’t care for, so he renamed it Hidden Valley Ranch.
People would visit the Hensons’ dude ranch to vacation and have group outings. After a long day of ranching, Henson got in the habit of serving people food. And with the food he’d always serve a dressing that he learned how to make while he was working in Alaska, where he needed to come up with a way to keep his cold and disgruntled workers happy. Ranch was the trick. Here’s the basic recipe:
People raved about this dressing at the Hidden Valley Ranch, so Steve brought a sample to the closest restaurant, which happened to be the Cold Springs Tavern. They tried it, loved it, and soon began to serve it to their customers. Steve then marketed it to Kelly’s Korner, a vegetable stand on State St. and La Cumbre Rd. The ranch dressing flew off the shelves. Very quickly, the Hensons had a pretty big business on their hands. They trademarked “Hidden Valley Ranch,” rather than “Ranch Dressing,” paving the way for countless imitators in years to come.
In 1972 Clorox purchased Hidden Valley Ranch (the dressing, not the place) for $8 million. They sold Hidden Valley Ranch in jarred and packet form. In 1980, they reformulated the recipe to include more preservatives, stabilizers, and shelf-stable ingredients. By 1992, Ranch became the nation’s most popular salad dressing.