Bringing the '50s Back

Mary Lou Henderson might not have been a star cook, but she made one heck of a dip

Bringing the '50s Back
Young Kwak
Henderson Dip owners (left to right) Becky Fix, daughter Taylor Kaiser and son Christopher Greene.

A photograph taken on a pine-tree-lined street shows a 20-something woman donning a collared checkered dress, a long coat, a short, bobbed haircut and a smile. That's Mary Lou Henderson in a black-and-white snapshot of mid-20th century Spokane.

Her family — specifically her daughter and two of her grandchildren — recently dug up that photo and many others from the basement and digitized her likeness for the wraparound label of a dip. Called Henderson Dip, it was Henderson's creation from the 1950s. Her family is now commercially releasing it through Cliff Cannon Foods, the company they created last year. It's now available in local grocery stores.

Henderson grew up in the childhood home of Bing Crosby, which her parents bought from the Crosby family. It's now part of the Gonzaga University campus. Then after a short stint of living in the Eastern Washington town of Hartline, Henderson returned to Spokane in the '50s with her husband and lived in the South Hill's Cliff Cannon neighborhood.

Henderson was a typical housewife, says her daughter Becky Fix, a local elementary school teacher. Henderson, who passed away in 1984, was fun and bubbly, loved decorating the house, socializing with her girlfriends and matching her clothes perfectly.

"We were a little worried sometimes about her fashion sense," she says, noting a time her mom wore a paper dress to match the paper tablecloths at a rehearsal dinner.

Another thing Henderson did that sometimes turned out a bit questionable was cook. Fix says she overcooked things.

"Her cooking was always kind of a debatable issue in our family," she says. "I think she thought she was pretty good at it, but I remember when [my parents] went out for dinner on a weekend with friends or something like that, we were tickled we could have Swanson TV dinners. That was a great treat for us."

Henderson did manage to make some dishes well, but those were usually for guests, like when she hosted her supper club.

"When she had people over, she cooked up a storm," Fix says. "She did twice-baked potatoes, beef stroganoff, those kind of things. But as a child in the house, we kind of always felt the company got better food than we did."

But one thing was always present, and that was the dip.

"My grandma was not a very good cook," says Christopher Greene, Henderson's grandson (Fix's son) and a Spokane attorney. "She has just a handful of recipes that have been passed down, and this is one of them."

The thick, creamy tomato-and-onion dip — which the family always called Henderson Dip — was a staple at family gatherings.

"Through the '50s and '60s and on, this dip has kind of been at every family event: funerals, weddings, barbeques, etc.," Greene says.

The dip has a cream cheese base with tomato, onion and secret spices. It's not like a French onion or ranch dip, but has its own flavor, he says. Carrots and other vegetables are a good dipping choice, and it works as a spread on sandwiches, bagels and burgers as well as in recipes, such as stuffed chicken breast and salmon. "For generations we had it with Ruffles," he says.

Fix says she remembers watching her mom make the dip for every gathering, and after Henderson died, Fix took on the duty of bringing the dip to each get-together.

"It was something that was just always there," Fix says. "As we grew up ... [my mom] always said to us kids, 'You need to bring this to the party. You need to bring this to the lake. You always need to bring Henderson Dip wherever you go.' It just took on a life of its own. It really did."

Now the family is bringing the dip to the public.

About two years ago, Fix and Greene, along with Greene's sister Taylor Kaiser, who works as an insurance agent, started the process of creating Cliff Cannon Foods and getting Henderson Dip ready to distribute.

The idea to package and sell the dip was originally Fix's brother's, who would make the suggestion at family gatherings. He died in 1994 before he could do anything about it, and between his death and 2011, no one really thought about selling Henderson Dip, Greene says.

It came up again when Greene was unemployed for two years between taking the bar exam and looking for a job. After Fix's husband passed away in 2011, Greene told her that maybe it was time to start up the family business.

"It came to us at the right time," Fix says. "It filled a lot of voids."

Now Henderson Dip can be found at the Spokane Rosauers stores and all Yoke's locations. Greene says he plans to eventually bring it to the rest of the Northwest, as well as add other products, including more dip flavors and other Henderson recipes from the '50s.

Between scouring old photo albums, digging up newspaper clippings of Henderson on society pages and gathering family and friends at their launch party at the Spokane Club last week, going back in time has made the whole experience an emotional one, says Fix.

"It's been a big journey of awakening that past," she says.

The past was on display at the launch party, with black-and-white photos of Henderson on every table and all the guests tasting Henderson Dip with chips, vegetables, sliders and artichokes.

"I know she'd be proud of all of us," Fix says. "She would have been the light of the party... the belle of the ball. She probably would've been wearing a paper dress and had her hair styled and get quite a kick out of it." ♦

Henderson Dip by Cliff Cannon Foods •

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