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Family sharing favorite dip with the rest of the Northwest

Mary Lou Higgins Henderson made pot roast pretty much every Sunday. And pretty much every Sunday, her main dish was overdone.

Similarly, her hamburger patties were always dried out, and the buns were always burned. Her six children disliked her lima bean casserole so much that they used to cough it into their napkins and stuff the evidence down the legs of their Formica table.

“We lusted after other people’s lunches,” said 62-year-old Becky Fix, a third-grade teacher in Spokane and the fourth of Henderson’s brood.

They did, however, look forward to one of their mother’s recipes: a tangy tomato and onion dip, made from a mixture of cream cheese and ketchup.

It remains a Henderson family favorite.

“I love the creaminess of it, the richness of it,” Fix said. “I love that it has a bite to it.”

Now, nearly three decades after her mother’s death, Henderson Dip will be available in local grocery stores. Yoke’s Foods and Rosauers Supermarkets have agreed to carry the condiment, which officially launched with a party at the Spokane Club on Friday.

Containers, which sell for about $5 each, are expected to hit stores Thursday.

“I’m just so excited,” Fix said. “In her wildest dreams, (my mother) never would’ve guessed this would happen. I think she would be extremely proud of us.”

From the 1950s forward, Henderson brought her dip to functions at St. Augustine Catholic Church, supper club dinners and summer barbecues at the old family cabin on Lake Coeur d’Alene. Wherever she went, it seemed, friends and family members would tell her, “You gotta bring the dip. You gotta bring the dip.”

After her mother died in 1984, Fix continued to make the spread, giving it away as a gift at Christmas and serving it as a side when she ran a catering business in the late 1980s.

“The dip has been at every function, every party, funeral, wedding that I can remember,” said her son, Christopher Greene. “My birthday parties as a kid, the dip was there. My sister’s wedding, the dip was there.”

Fix has been making the dip from memory since she was in her early teens. She learned alongside her mother, who didn’t write down the recipe. Both eyeballed the ingredients, doing quality control by taste.

Other than ketchup and cream cheese, the recipe is secret.

To develop the formula for commercial production, Fix and her son worked with EverGreen Culinary Solutions, a food consulting firm in Seattle.

“We use very little preservative,” said Greene, a 31-year-old attorney.

He serves as chief operating officer of Cliff Cannon Foods, the company he owns with sister, Taylor Kaiser, 34, and his mother, who is chief executive officer. Formed in 2012, it was named for the South Hill neighborhood where they all grew up and where Fix still lives.

“It’s kind of cool it’s made right here,” said Mike Kerbs, manager of the 14th Avenue Rosauers, which will help debut the dip. “I have tried it. It’s very good. It’s a local flavor.”

Greene has been working for more than two years on a business plan to commercially produce and market the dip. But he credits his late uncle Bob Henderson, a Spokane attorney, with coming up with the idea in the early 1990s.

“He was an entrepreneur,” Greene said, noting he hopes to see Henderson Dip spread throughout the West. “If it was everywhere in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Northern California, I would be extremely happy with that.”

Only the original flavor – creamy tomato and onion – will be available to start. Three other flavors – including spring onion and Tuscan, with rosemary, thyme and Kalamata olives – are in the works.

Blank Space in Seattle designed the marketing materials and labeling. Spokane Produce will make, package and deliver the dip, which comes in 8-ounce, red and off-white, retro-style containers. “Made in Spokane” is printed on the label on the lid. A starburst made of spoons, a popular pattern in the 1950s, sits on the side, along with a caricature of a smiling Henderson, showing a bit of a sassy smirk.

It’s based on an old family photo. And it’s the way Fix remembers her mom.

Born in Spokane in 1922, Henderson grew up next door to crooner Bing Crosby until her family – the Higgins – bought the house in the 1930s. (The 100-year-old Craftsman-style home is now owned by Gonzaga University.) When she married, she moved to Cliff Cannon, where she raised two sons and four daughters.

Both sons have since died. Of her daughters, one lives in Seattle, one lives in Portland and two remain in Spokane, including Fix, who fronted the start-up money for the new family business. She won’t say how much she put toward the project, only, “If I had to pay a lawyer, I never would have been able to do it.”

She relied on her son to do much of the research. Greene has a master’s in business administration as well as a law degree.

He was about 3 years old when his grandmother, whom he called Nana Louie, died and said he hardly remembers her. But her legacy lives on through her famous dip – and a couple of other dishes.

Henderson was also known not to botch savory dinner rolls – which went by the name “Nana’s Buns” in the Henderson family – as well as a seasoned party mix and something called “Spaghetti Delight,” a sort of spaghetti casserole.

But the dip was her specialty.

“It’s a symbol of our family,” said Greene, who ordered 130 pounds of the stuff for the launch party. “It’s always been there. It’s been there in good times and bad times.”

Growing up, his mother enjoyed the dip almost exclusively with Ruffles Original Potato Chips. And that’s still her favorite way to have it.

“I think it gets better with every chip,” said Fix, who also serves it with veggie platters or uses it on hamburgers instead of ketchup.

“It’s a real crowd-pleaser,” she said. “It seems like once people start, they can’t stop.”