History of California Dip

LiptonCaliforniaDipAd1962

A Lipton’s ad that includes the California Dip recipe from 1962.

So confession time…..I HATED this dip. I know this dip as “the onion soup mix dip” and it was always at every family function when I was a kid in the eighties and nineties. The problem is that my mother loved it so every time there was a moment that called for a dip guess what she made…..

The issue was I disliked all things that were onion as a child (ok so I may still have a few hangups when it comes to onions as an adult) with the taste being too sharp for my burgeoning taste buds.  The other problem was that it always seemed like, with all the chaos surrounding getting ready for family functions, that the preparation of this very easy to make dip would be forgotten till like 15 minutes before the party. So you were left with sharp and crunchy dehydrated onions and a too salty dip that hadn’t been giving the chance to mellow in the fridge.  As a child I never questioned the origin of the dip let alone realized that it was quite popular not just in my household.

Who and where was California Dip created?
Even though the dip is printed on every Lipton Soup box, they do not claim that they created the dip. In a 1996 article, Lipton’s director of public relations, Pamela Stetson, says “We did not actually invent the California dip but we provided the product without which it could not exist.” Instead it was created in 1954 by an unknown home cook in California which was two years after the dehydrated onion soup mix hit the U.S. markets.

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What ingredients are in California Dip?
In case you are one of the the rare people who have not ever had this dip, it is simply made with a pint of sour cream (2 cups) mixed with one package of onion soup mix. Potato chips was the most popular accompaniment to this dip but many articles, such as one in 1955, suggests that a variety of “dunkers” to surround the dip such as carrot sticks, celery, cauliflower, corn chips, rye crackers and Melba toasts. The same article reminds you at the end to “present your tray with the flourish it deserves”.

1955AdPa'DutchCreamCADip

A 1950’s newspaper ad that that features the California Dip recipe.

When was California Dip popular?
Oh boy oh boy did the 1950s love this dip. Supposedly after the anonymous person created the dip, it was spread quickly by word of mouth throughout California. Then local newspapers started printed the recipe which made it spread across the state even faster. Lipton executives started noticing increase in sales in California especially in the Los Angeles area. They investigated and learned that a food writer had written about a dip that was created by a homemaker. The original recipe was a whole lot of onion soup mixed with a little bit of sour cream which according to Lipton tester notes was “enough to blow your head off”. The recipe as we know it today was the work of Lipton perfecting the proportions. In 1958, the new and improved recipe was printed on the back of all Lipton Recipe Secrets Onion Soup Mix.

But to be honest it isn’t just the 1950s that loved this dip, as it really never waned in popularity. In Peg Bracken’s popular 1960 I Hate to Cook Book, this recipe is included with the caption “in case someone hasn’t heard”. During the 1960s was where a few variations started to appear such a mixing in some blue cheese or some mashed avocado. I even ran across a few recipes that used this dip as a mix in for a casserole. Also, it was mentioned, not by name, in the seventh episode of season one of Mad Men when Pete was tasked with returning a duplicate chip and dip that he and Trudy had received as a wedding gift. According to Lipton, even today they see an increase in sales every year from mid November to Super Bowl Sunday and that the onion soup mix is turned more into dip than into actual soup.

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Why should I make California Dip?
I’m not sure if I am the one to give this dip a ringing endorsement if you refer back to my introduction to this post nor would you believe me. I will admit I have made my peace with this dip now that I am older but still I will let the words of other people do the work. First there is my mother who again LOVES this dip, especially with a bag of Fritos to drag through the thick creamy mixture. Jean Anderson, author of The American Century Cookbook, says that this dip is “surely American’a most beloved”. Sherri Liberman in American Food by the Decades calls it “easy to make, convenient to store and can be served with a number of snacks”. Famed food writers Jane and Michael Stern called California dip “an ingenious transformation” of onion soup mix.

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How to make California Dip?

California Dip

  • Servings: 8 to 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

The super easy mid century classic dip!

Ingredients

  • 1 pint (or two cups) sour cream
  • 1 package of onion soup mix
  • Dippers of choice such as chips or veggies.

Directions

  1. Mix the sour cream and onion soup together.
  2. Chill for at least hour.
  3. Serve with chips or veggies.

 


Sources:

Anderson, Jean. The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century. New York: Clarkson Potter Publishers, 1997.

Bracken, Peg. The I Hate to Cook Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc. ,1960

Frobe, Gertude. “You and Your Home: Dunks and Dip.” Beaver Valley Times. April 28, 1955.

Hamlin, Suzanne. “Dip In”. Pittsburgh Post Gazette. January 17, 1996.

Liberman, Sherri. American Food by the Decades. California: Greenwood, 2011.

Powell, Mary Alice. “Food Unlimited: Ever Wonder Where Onion Dip Originated?” Toledo Blade, February 18, 1993.

Stern, Jane and Stern, Michael. Square Meals: America’s Favorite Comfort Food Cookbook. New York: Lebhar-Friedman Books, 2001.

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