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Thousand Island Dressing

I cannot get enough of the “who created it” stories. Alas, I have found another…Thousand Island dressing. Perhaps, when we all think of Thousand Island salad dressing, it gets a bit of a bad rap. If you are like me, you might think of salad bar staples or the not so “secret” sauce on a Big Mac. Yet the dressing has its place in food history. What I do know is true about this thick sauce, high society once raved about this recipe on their greens, and the name comes from the region located along the upper St. Lawrence River between the United States and Canada. Now comes the “who did” part.

The first tale of origin reads almost as if it comes from a book. Picture this. On a heart-shaped island within the Thousand Islands sits the stately Rhenish-style Boldt Castle, the grand summer home to the owners of the Waldorf-Astoria, George and Louise Boldt. While cruising on their steam yacht, the lovebirds sat down for lunch to nibble on some greens; however, the onboard chef, Oscar Tschirky, forgot to bring the dressing. Scrambling to create a delicious dressing that would not disappoint his employers, Oscar grabbed what he could find. The chef tossed a mixture of mayonnaise, ketchup, relish, Worcestershire sauce, and a hard-boiled egg together; the chef created Thousand Island dressing. The “lovies” thought it was a hit and shared it with their highbrow friends. The Boldts promoted Oscar from yacht duty to chef at their famed hotel and immediately started to serve the dressing they named after their beloved retreat region. After several favorite recipes, including Veal Oscar and the Waldorf salad, the humble yacht cook became known as Oscar of the Waldorf. Interestingly, Oscar of the Waldorf wrote a cookbook that did not include this dressing. Hum.

The other story, which has a bit of a Hollywood twist, comes from the Thousand Islands Inn in Clayton, NY. Sophia and George Lalond were the proprietors of the Inn, and Sophia created the dressing, which she appropriately named “Sophia’s Sauce.” Sophia would often make the dressing for her husband and fellow fisherman, serving the sauce on their sandwiches. Lore states that George once served the dressing to the actress with the first ever-onscreen kiss, May Irwin. May was immediately hooked on the dressing and begged the Lalonds to share the recipe with her. May was a Hollywood sweetheart who rubbed elbows with the fancy pants. After talking highly about the recipe, who did she share it with… you got it… The “lovies” George and Louis Boldt. Onboard cook, huh? You don’t say.

There is also a third, less established story: the dressing was a variation of the classic French dressing, noted in the 1965 edition of The Fanny Farmer Cookbook. There is not much talk about this theory. We will consider this a nice thought, but chances are this is not the origin.

Even though the dressing has almost no nutritional value and may not be the selection you should choose if you are watching your waistline, Thousand Island dressing is still one of the favorites for Americans. The dressing is a variant of remoulade and Russian dressing, with a common base of mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon juice, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, ketchup, and assorted other ingredients like pickles, onions, hard-boiled eggs, green olives, and peppers. With all these variations in ingredients, you can see that it is hard to nail down who invented the dressing.

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