Where Are These Thousand Islands? The Origins of 7 Condiments & Sauces

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We've looked at the origins of a few of our favorite condiments on the blog before, but that didn't quite answer all of our questions about the namesakes of our favorite spreads, sauces, and dressings. Here are a few stories that you can use to regale your friends the next time you chow down.

1. Thousand Island Dressing

Is the delicious dressing that gives a Reuben its tanginess named after an actual chain of islands? You bet it is. The Thousand Islands are an archipelago that sits in the Saint Lawrence River on the U.S.-Canada border, and there are actually 1,793 of them, some of which are so small that they contain nothing more than a single home.

So why is the dressing named after an archipelago? No one's quite sure. Some people claim that early film star and vaudevillian May Irwin, who summered on the Thousand Islands, named it, while others contend that George Boldt, the famed proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria, gave the dressing its name because of his own summer place in the region. No matter who named it, it's tough to beat on a sandwich.

2. Ranch Dressing

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Yep, the beloved dressing and dipping sauce actually got its start on a real ranch. When Steve and Gayle Henson opened a dude ranch in California in 1954, they had an ace up their sleeves: a delicious dressing that Steve had concocted while the couple was living in Alaska.

The couple did a nice business at their Hidden Valley Ranch, but guests were always flipping out over just how tasty Steve's dressing was. Eventually, the Hensons started bottling the stuff, and the popularity grew so quickly that they had to hire a twelve-man crew just to help mix up each batch. Steve's culinary creativity turned out to be lucrative; in 1972 Clorox forked over $8 million for the recipe.

3. A1 Steak Sauce

According to the brand's website, A1 has been around for quite a while. Henderson William Brand worked as the personal chef for King George IV from 1824 to 1831, and at some point during this employment mixed up a new sauce for the king to use on his beef. George IV allegedly took one bite of Brand's creation and declared that it was "A1." Brand then left the king's employ in order to go peddle his new sauce.

4. Worcestershire Sauce

lea.jpgWorcestershire sauce was invented accidentally in England by Brits trying to ape what they thought was authentic Indian food. In this case, the demanding diner was one Lord Marcus Sandy, a former colonial governor of Bengal. Having grown attached to a particular flavor of Indian sauce, he recruited two drugstore owners, John Lea and William Perrins, in hopes that they could recreate it based on his descriptions. Lea and Perrins thought they'd make a profit by selling the leftovers in their store, but frankly, the sauce they created had a powerful stench "“ so they stashed it in the basement and forgot about it for two years while it aged into something that tasted much better. (We suspect that in a similar manner, we are harboring the next big culinary phenomenon in the back of our fridge.)

Lea and Perrins sold the stuff to a boatload of customers, literally; they convinced British passenger ships to carry some aboard. Presumably they didn't mention the way they'd come across their secret recipe since it probably would have made most people seasick.

5. Heinz 57

HEINZ.jpgLegend has it that Heinz 57 takes its name from H.J. Heinz's company formerly marketing 57 products at once, and except for the number, the story holds up. Heinz's website tells a story that Henry John Heinz was riding a train when he saw a billboard advertising 21 varieties of shoes. He so liked the idea he wanted to try it with his own condiment company. Thus, he started touting Heinz's 57 varieties.

There was only one catch: Heinz marketed well over 60 products at the time. So where did the 57 come from? Heinz thought the number was lucky. Five was Heinz's lucky number, and seven was his wife's. He mashed the charmed digits together, got 57, and never looked back.

6. Tartar Sauce

Fish's best friend is named after an alternate spelling of the word "Tatar," which was how Western Europeans once referred to almost anyone of Mongolian or Turkic descent. Many of these Tatars/Tartars ran roughshod over Europe in the time of Genghis Khan, but they knew how to cook. One of the dishes they left behind, beef tartare, came back into fashion in 19th-century France. These helpings of steak tartare came with a number of garnishes, including the creamy white stuff that eventually became generically known as tartar sauce.

7. Hollandaise Sauce

Hollandaise, the lemon-butter-and-egg yumminess that Eggs Benedict can't live without, isn't actually Dutch. Instead, it's one of the most well known French sauces. The sauce first appeared in French cooking in the 17th century, and is apparently named both because it somewhat resembles an old Dutch sauce and because the Dutch had such thriving butter and egg industries that provided two of the sauce's main ingredients.

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June 18, 2009 - 8:08am
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