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The Saga of Thousand Island Dressing and the Original Recipe for it!

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I just came back from the Thousand Islands, a natural wonder that occurs where the Great Lakes pour into the St. Lawrence River.  These islands range in size from tiny outcroppings in the river to islands where there are farms and dozens of families living on them year ‘round.   Most, however, are home to seasonal summer homes accessible only by boat.  There are well over a thousand of them, 1864 to be exact, scattered along a fifty mile downstream stretch from Kingston, Ontario.  To qualify as an island, the land must be above water level all year round, have an area of at least one square foot and support at least one living tree.  Those islands that are not a part of the province of Ontario are all located in New York State.  Boat tours leave from both sides of the border, pointing out the homes of the rich and famous, who summered here at the turn of the 19 th century.  Among those is one of the greatest rock piles I’ve ever seen, Boldt Castle.  It’s the subject of much legend and romance.  And it’s part of the intrigue surrounding Thousand Island Salad Dressing.

Boldt Castle

Recipes for Thousand Island dressing are not quite as numerous as the islands themselves but they do come close.  Some use tomato paste.  Some throw in chili sauce, ketchup or Tabasco.  But it wasn’t hard to find the original recipe for the dressing, which has none of the above.  Amazingly, the very well known Inn where I stayed did not serve anything approaching a proper Thousand Island  dressing.  Instead they serve a version from Kraft that has nothing to do with the original.  For shame indeed! (Click this link for a review of where I stayed https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g182143-d182840-Reviews-The_Gananoque_Inn_and_Spa-Gananoque_Ontario.html ).  Once I got over the disappointment that a local restaurant could not put together this amazingly easy and wonderfully rich dressing, I couldn’t wait to make my own. The dressing was everything I’d hoped: rich and creamy, full of old fashioned flavor, a wonderful topping to a chilled wedge of iceberg lettuce.  To the lettuce I added some halved grape tomatoes and a hearty sprinkling of crisp bacon.  About the only thing missing from my version of the salad was Boldt Castle and the story of the Thousand Island dressing.
Sophie Lalonde

Legend has it that a woman named Sophia Lalonde invented a salad topping to serve to her husband and fishing guide George’s clients. The islands are home to Muskie, a game fish that is as much prized for its fight and its size as for its flavor.  Once the fishing is over, the traditional Shore dinner is held.  It’s a rather amazing plate that’s put together for this dinner: French toast with maple syrup, salt potatoes, corn on the cob, Bacon and bread and red onions and battered and pan-fried fish.  Finally there’s a tossed salad. It was to this salad that Sophie Lalonde, who lived on the US side of the islands, in Clayton, New York, added her dressing.
May Irwin and the silver screen’s
first kiss.

According to local lore, an American actress named May Irwin and her husband, were bowled over both by Mr. Lalonde’s fishing expertise and Sophia’s dressing.  May Irwin has the distinction of being the actress in the first movie kiss. But her second accomplishment, giving Thousand Island Dressing its name, is what she is even better remembered for.  It’s said that the green sweet pickle, the black olives and the red peppers stood in for the islands themselves.  With some degree of logic, Ms. Irwin christened the concoction after its birthplace. 

Things get slightly murky when a man named George Boldt appears.  Boldt was penniless Prussian immigrant whose meteoric business success included building and owning the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The  wildly nouveau riche Boldt arrived in the Thousand Islands on his yacht, accompanied by his wife Louisa.  They immediately made plans to build the most elaborate of castles, a great stone monument to themselves.  Features included a replica of the Arc de Triomphe and the Alster Tower, a giant fortress that Boldt commissioned to look like fortifications on the Alter River of his native Prussia. Most unfortunately, Louisa Boldt died at age 45 before the castle was completed.

George Boldt, inconsolable at her loss, abandoned the place altogether.  But before he did, one version of the story has his yacht’s chef throwing the dressing together because it was all he had to work with. Nonsense. I believe that was just to cover the fact that they stole Sophie Lalonde’s recipe.   This version is far more likely: May Irwin introduced Boldt to Sophie Lalonde’s dressing, which he in turn introduced to his Chef, the famous Oscar of the Waldorf. Oscar put it on the hotel menu and from then on, Thousand Island dressing became one of the most popular salad dressings of all times.

Now here’s the recipe.  I used the most basic of pantry items to make it.  Supermarket sweet pickle relish and those terrible canned black olives, which were surely the only ones available in Upstate New York in the 19 th century.  No Kalamatas here, although I couldn’t help thinking they would have been wonderful.  It’s nothing like bottled Kraft. It’s not McDonald’s special sauce.  And it differs from Russian Dressing which is made with ketchup. Thousand Island never should be. The calorie count is almost exclusively from the mayonnaise.  I use Hellmann’s Olive Oil Mayo, which comes in at 60 calories a tablespoon. I can hardly call this salad calorie-conscious because I served it with those with crispy bacon bits.  This is the original recipe and the proportions are such that you could likely feed all the diners at the Waldorf with ease.  So I’ve also printed one that’s half the hotel size. Served as a lunch or light supper, accompanied by some crusty bread or whole grain rolls, this would be superb. Here’s the recipe:

41 thoughts on “The Saga of Thousand Island Dressing and the Original Recipe for it!”

  • Dear Jens, I am so pleased that you want to make this recipe. If you have any kind of sweet gherkin, you can chop that up and use it. I believe you have something called "remoulade" (sweet Danish pickle) which you could easily substitute. When I first ran across 'remoulade', it puzzled me a bit because a Remoulade is a particular sauce here. I hope this helps and please let us know how it turns out. Held og lykke!

    • WRONG. This is NOT the original recipe. This may be the Waldof-Astoria’s embellished and glorified recipe, but it is NOT the recipe as Sophia LaLonde created it. Sophia’s original recipe is much simpler and has a much more classic, old-time taste. If you’re going to make claims in your stories and purport them to be true, you have the responsibility to do research and be accurate. Otherwise, you’re just spreading lies.

      • Would you be willing to part with the original Sophie Lalonde recipe? I am sure our readers would love to see it for themselves. Meanwhile, you have no idea how much research went into this post. I think this is an accurate recipe and I certainly go out of my way not to repeat ‘lies’. Thanks!

        • sophia’s secret sauce-
          1 cup mayo, half a cup ketchup, 1 hard boiled egg chopped, 2 tablespoon worchestershire, 2 tablespoon lemon juice, 1/4 cup pickle relish

          • Dan Lutz has the same recipe I have for Sophia’s Sauce, from the Clayton, NY museum, dated 1907. It’s very simplistic. A modern bottled version from Sophia’s TI Inn is also in ltd production (5000 bottles year) and in addition to a base (I’m reading from the bottle), ingredients include chopped cucumber/red pepper/onion, vinegar, salt, sugar, horseradish & garlic powder, but omits pickle relish and Worcestershire.

          • The recipe Dan gave is the one shown on the program “Mysteries at the Museum”. They photographed the recipe handwritten by May Irwin in a 1907 letter.

            It really doesn’t matter how much research you did, if you get it wrong. There are several sites touting to have the “original” Thousand Island Dressing recipe, and so far, none of the agree (or match the recipe in May Irwin’s letter).

            I would think that you would want to acknowledge at least that there is some controversy about the original recipe

          • Hello Hank! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. It is extraordinary how controversial this post is. And there are so many varients out there. I love this story and I am always so pleased when people join in a discussion as you have. All best, Monte

          • Thank you Dan for sharing the recipe. This is the first one I have seen with no vinegar. We just bought some at Bolt Castle and One serving was enough for me. Too much vinegar. Very disappointed thought we were getting the real thing. 20 years ago we were at the thousand islands and had the dressing at a restaurant it was fabulos. Think that a spoon stood up in middle of tea cup. Could not find anything close this trip 20 years later. Making tonight.

  • Thank you for your prompt reply. Does the sweet pickle relish only contain pickled gherkins or are there other ingredients as well?
    There is a Swedish relish called ”Bostongurka” (Cucumber from Boston) containing pickled cucumber, red bell pepper, onion and mustard seeds. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bostongurka). Is it similar to the relish you are using?
    Danish sauce remoulade is made from finely chopped British piccalilli (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piccalilli) and mayonnaise, although the industrial version is made from some sort of pickled cabbage and mayonnaise, turmeric and curry. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remoulade). I don’t think that it can replace the pickle relish.
    I will try to make this recipe. It’s exiting and quite different from the “Thousand Island Dressing” recipe I am using now, and it then might turn up on my blog as well. 😉
    PS. Sorry for my poor English.

  • All the sweet pickle relish contains, according to its label, is cucumbers and peppers sugar and vinegar. I think the "Bostongurka" sounds like a pretty close match. And honestly, never apologize for your English. It is far superior to my Danish! Held og lykke and please come back and tell us what you think.

  • Monge,
    You have parts of the history of Thousand Islands Salad Dressing, kinda close, but it was in fact created by the owner/chef of the Thousand Islands Inn, in Clayton, NY. The national news, and other news magazines, have covered the history, and interviewed the current owners. The original, authentic recipe is a secret, and has never been offered to the public. Growing up here in the Thousand Islands, you have listed some ingredients that would never be put in the dressing – no sugar, no cloves, no black olives. I don't know who gave you this recipe, but it is only someone's facsimile.

  • Dear Chubby Bunny, As I pointed out, recipes for Thousand Island Dressing are almost as numerous as the islands themselves. The recipe I settled on came from Oscar of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. This was the hotel the Boldt's of Boldt's castle owned. This is the recipe that Oscar supposedly stole from Sophie Lalonde. I doubt a chef as famous as he was could leave well enough alone and undoubtedly changed it in some fashion. You may well be correct that sugar, cloves and black olives may have been his additions to the original. And I must say I do like the romance of the black bits of olive standing for the islands themselves. Thanks so much for your comments. I love hearing from readers like you.

  • Thanks for this fun read, Monte. I stumbled across your blog and though I've read many versions (including yours and chubbybunny's claims that she has the accurate history–how can we be sure?), I like your version. 🙂 A good story! And I like that no matter if it's authentic or original, we can create whatever we like to suit our tastes. Food/recipe history is so varied and deep (with folks calling theirs the best, the original, etc. or calling another person's recipe "wrong" or inaccurate. Pish! I love to see all versions and how folks make something "their own." 🙂 Off to dig further into your blog since I so enjoyed this post!

  • Dear Melissa, I wondered where all the renewed interest in this particular post came from and when I checked, I went straight to your wonderful blog. Isn't it amazing how this continues to be a controversial recipe so many years after it first appeared? And how adamant a discussion it is. I was staying on the Canadian side of the Islands otherwise would have tried to go to the 1000 Islands Inn in Clayton. Thanks again, Melissa and come back soon. Monte

  • Dear Foodlove, Thank you so much for taking the time to write. I do appreciate it more than you know. I am fascinated with food history and often write posts 'with a side of history'. And I too am totally intrigued by 'comments', particularly those who have so drastically altered a recipe that it bares no resemblance to the one they are commenting on. Here's a link to my absolute favorite of that genre…https://chewingthefat.us.com/2013/12/ina-gartens-lobster-pot-pie-and-just.html
    Hope you enjoy it and thank you again for coming by! All best, Monte

  • Dear Jyll, If you click on Jens name, you will go to his site. Since I have not heard how it worked out, feel free to ask him yourself! And if you have a moment, let us know! All best, Monte

    • R
      1 hårdkogt æg
      1 spsk. Worcestershire sauce
      3/4 tsk. sukker
      1 spsk. hvidvinseddike
      ½ nip stødt nellike
      2½ dl. mayonnaise
      3 spsk. sød agurke relish (se evt. boston gurka)
      2 spsk. hakkede sorte oliven
      2 spsk. hakket rød peber

  • Dear Jens, So pleased to see your post. Just wish I could comment on it in Danish–not my strong suit! I hope your readers enjoy your post. As you can see from the further comments on this page, it's been quite controversial. It
    has attracted a lot of attention. Happy summer to you Jens and wish you much success with your blog! Monte

  • Monte, thank you for the excellent article and recipe. Another great salad dressing that has mysterious origins is Green Goddess. The Captain's Table in Mandan, North Dakota made a version that was absolutely divine but sadly they closed their doors a few years ago. Theirs was a mayonnaise and sour cream based concoction. If you could find the original Green Goddess recipe I'd be one happy partially frozen No-Daker.

  • I am so glad you enjoyed this article. It was one of my favorites too. I love a challenge and I will take you up on yours. Food History is one my favorite subjects. So I'll get to it! And to make you feel slightly better, the high today in NYC is 21 degrees so we are also partially frozen.

  • Dear W, Tomorrow is your lucky day! I am just about to publish your request: Both the original recipe for Green Goddess dressing and the story behind it. Thank you so much for taking the time to write and I hope you will share this post with all your friends in Mandan who miss The Captain's Table. All best, Monte

  • Oh, Chubbybunny. It has been historically proven that Sophia pioneered the recipe, and it is even on display at Thousand Islands museum. Perhaps one should get their facts straight before Internet trolling

  • This is the bomb dressing served in the northwest with a wedge type salad topped with fresh dungeness crab!
    My family loves this dressing. And thanks for the story of the "Thousand Island's". Makes it taste that much better!

    • Interesting question, Patricia! I note the National Geographic called it Thousand Island Dressing and that’s good enough for me!

  • Hi Monte, it is astonishing the controversy and passion the readers convey regarding this Thousand Island Dressing recipe. Thanks so much for publishing. I have been using your recipe for years. Seems to be identical to a recipe also published on a popular Recipe site in 2001 by “A Local 1000 Islander” who indicates that this is served in Alexandria Bay, New York. I found it on that website originally. Whether it is authentic or not, my family loves it. I admire your research into the topic. Keep up the good work.

    • Dear Cynthia, I couldn’t believe how much controversy this generated. It seems to be one of those recipes with an enormous pride of place. I am so glad that you have confirmed what I have posted. Thanks so much for taking the time to write. I hope you’re a subscriber so you never miss a post. All best, Monte

  • I see I am years too late to this party but found this article so intriguing. I grew up having 1000 island dressing anytime we had salad in our home. Mom made it just as the original recipe is described in Dan’s comment above. Mom is 90 years old now and made this dressing in this same way all her adult life and I continue with the tradition. Mayo, half as much ketchup, worcestershire and pickle relish and squirt of lemon to your personal taste. Chopped egg would have been great added but we never did this and probably due to time constraints with both my parents working in hospital and raising 4 children. This is still my favorite dressing today on a big salad with lots of raw veggies added. We always had lettuce from our garden or iceberg from the grocery. These days when I make a more delicate salad with leaf lettuce or spring greens, we make a French vinaigrette. But when having a salad for a meal, nothing beats 1000 Island dressing on a mix of lettuce, radish, cauliflower, scallions, tomatoes, celery and so on. Fun article to read and love all the comments.

    • Thank you so much for contributing your story to Chewing The Fat. Family history is fascinating to me and I am sure my readers will love reading y0our family story. All best, Monte

  • Wow! I’m a few years late to this party too! What interesting history for this dressing —- my husband’s favorite and my least favorite, lol…. but the name was always intriguing as a little girl and this article was wonderful to satisfy that little girl’s thoughts as everywhere I went it was offered as a salad dressing choice. Thank you Monte, for this fun and well researched food history and thank you for your gracious responses to each one of the comments. I have made my own from my own imagination and I’ve followed recipes of which there is no end! Lol. The homemade version made me hate the dressing less and less so I’m on my way to the thousand islands! Blessings! Kelly

    • Dear Kelly, Your taking the time to write has made my day. I hope you’ll sign up to receive Chewing The Fat every week. There’s a sign up form on every page. All best, Monte

  • It would have been nice if you had credited Boldt Castle for the “original” recipe from the very beginning.

    It would have been even better if you had pointed out that they push two “original” recipes. https://boldtcastle.wordpress.com/stories/1000-island-dressing/

    “Ingredients: 1/4 cup chopped pimientos, 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 cup chopped pickles, 1/3 cup chopped green olives, 1 tsp grated onion, 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup sour cream, 2 chopped hard cooked eggs. Method: Combine ingredients in a bowl and add vinegar to taste if desired. Stir and refrigerate. makes approximately 2 cups of dressing.

    Ingredients: 1 quart mayonnaise, 1/2 cup chopped olives, 3/4 cup relish, 1/4 cup vinegar, 3 hardboiled eggs (chopped), 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce, dash of ground cloves, 1/2 cup diced red pepper, 1 tsp sugar. Method: Combine ingredients in a bowl and add vinegar to taste. Stir and refrigerate”

    They also have an elaborately truthy origin story for the their two “original” recipes that sounds more than a little like the invention of the Caesar and Cobb salads.

    Compare those recipes to the description from The Waldorf https://waldorfnewyorkcity.com/blog/thousand-island-dressing/

    “This elegantly unpretentious recipe is a creamy marriage of mayonnaise and ketchup, tinged with a hint of chile sauce, which leaves a tantalizing spicy note in the mouth. In the dressing, tasty bits of pickle relish and chopped egg float, creating the illusion of the islands that inspired its name.”

    It should be noted here that the Waldorf credits Sophia Lalonde for creating the recipe.

    The Waldorf description sounds a lot more like the recipe described by Dan Lutz than the two recipes being sold on the Canadian side. A picture of the recipe, as recorded by May Irwin can be found here: https://www.wrvo.org/post/who-really-created-thousand-island-dressing or here:

    • Thank you so much for taking the time and putting more information on this post. As you can see, this is a source of never-ending fascination and I can’t thank you enough for adding to it. My very best wishes to you, Scott.

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