Catalina vs. Thousand Islands

No, this is not a review of commercial, over-the-counter, factory-made salad dressings. Rather, it is a chance for me to get something off my chest, to prove something, and perhaps even exorcise an old demon.

It has to do with Kraft salad dressings. When I was a kid, we didn’t eat a lot of salad at home, but when we did it was dressed with Kraft dressings. The idea of making your own salad dressing was, in the Cape Breton of the 1970s, as obscure and weird as building your own car or making home-made rubber boots. After all, why mix together some homemade slop like some kind of poor person when you can so easily buy a tasty factory-made and standardized product that is even endorsed on television?

My preference at the time was for Catalina, the reddish-colored thick goop that I have since learned is essentially just second-rate oil, fructose, and ketchup. I also liked “Italian” but only the “creamy” one because the oil and vinegar didn’t separate.

There was Kraft Thousand Islands salad dressing, which I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. Thousand Islands dressing was pale and creamy (ewww!) and had some weird lumps in it. Those lumps, it turns out, are just chopped up pickles. Had I known that as a kid I might have tried it (I loved pickles!). However, it still would have been hard to get over that creamy texture and color. Remember, this was a household where mayonnaise was considered only slightly more dangerous than Agent Orange.

Kraft-like dressings at Mr. SteerThere’s a reason why, decades later, I am still haunted by these concoctions even though I haven’t touched a Kraft dressing in at least 15 years (actually, that’s not true: Mr. Steer, an old-time downtown Montreal restaurant has dispensers of Kraft — or at least Kraft-like — dressing on every table, and I did try it for old-time’s sake). The reason I have trouble letting go is the following double helix of entwined memory fog:

  • Many people seem to think that Thousand Islands dressing is reddish or reddish-orange
  • Hardly anyone seems to remember Catalina dressing, even though it is still available
  • Here’s the connecty part: when people see or think of reddish-orange Kraft dressings, they always invoke Thousand Islands instead of Catalina

I want to express how much that drives me crazy, but I don’t want to get carried off to the nut house (where, I expect, Catalina is the house dressing on their side salads). So I’ll try to be restrained and civilized:

That drives me crazy.

There. Done.

Part of the reason it drives me crazy (OK, here comes the pathological part) is that, as the youngest of four children (some of the other three having been heartless and cruel towards their baby bro when we were kids), I have for my entire life suffered the phenomenon of feeling like I am never believed, and am never able to convince people that I am right, even when I am absolutely and unequivocally right.

For example, when I was a kid, it would be a bright and sunny day in June and I would say “Wow, look how blue the sky is” and my brother would say “No it’s not. The sky is green and it’s raining.” Nothing I could say would make him accept that it was blue-skied and sunny. He would taunt me with his green sky theory and if my cursed cousins where there they’d always side with him. My frustration would build and I’d finally go running into the house, crying. My Dad would say “Ask your mother” and my Mom would just tell me to stop crying and go outside — which she would not have said if it were, indeed, actually raining.

I’d like to get even more Freudian, but I’ll spare you all that torture and fast-forward over the next 40 years or so by saying that I still get a bit neurotic in situations where I know I’m right but nobody will listen. This manifests itself in many ways, and in many venues, and one of them is when, every couple of years or so, there’s a reference to reddish colored factory-made salad dressing, and people blurt out “Thousand Islands!” I say “No, it’s Catalina!” and people look at me like I have two heads and claim to have never heard of Catalina dressing. Then they continue to guffaw at length about Thousand Islands dressing. (No! The sky is blue and it’s sunny!!!)

This is not an endorsement.

So today, at the grocery store, I spotted a bottle of Catalina dressing. I think it’s the first time I’ve seen it in a decade. My most recent “Catalina/Thousand Islands” (sunny/rainy) episode still fresh in my mind, I was compelled to line up a bottle of Catalina next to a bottle of Thousand Islands and take a photo as evidence (see above).

So there it is, people. Catalina: nice and red. Thousand Islands: pale and lumpy. CASE CLOSED!

20 thoughts on “Catalina vs. Thousand Islands

  1. This is what happens to people in that weird time zone between Christmas and New Year.

    Maybe we should go out and play.

  2. I always associated 1000 Islands dressing with calamine lotion, as they have the same kind of off-Band-Aid coloration. These were staples in our childhood household as well (and I hate them both). Then again, nothing could be worse than a Kraft Pizza Kit, which apparently lives on as the Chef Boyardee pizza kit…

  3. Ok, we must be looking at a different picture because the orangey-red stuff is CLEARLY Thousand Islands. ;)

    I’m not sure I know anyone who cites these dressings as their favourites and I wonder if Kraft is just being stubborn by continuing to produce them.

    AJ, I’m pretty sure Kraft pizza kits are still being produced under their own label but they’re hard to find. A few years back I become obsessed with finding them in a fit of nostalgia. After finding one, I remembered why they didn’t survive the 70’s at my family’s house: Soggy dough, bitter sauce, all covered with a seasoning dust. These were the first pizzas I ate and they ended up turning me against pizzas in general for years after.

    Although my disappointment may have been due to the fact that I didn’t cover the pizzas with my traditional toppings of hot dogs and Kam.

  4. I can relate so well to your youth and being unbelieved being the youngest and everything. Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt. My sister once said that she had done the theater like nativity scene I had just spent hours creating with lighting inside the porcelain statuettes and two tiered floor with lights under it to light the cotton creating a heavenly luminescent ambiance. She kept telling me she did it. And we were grown adults at this point. Imagine childhood. OY!

    And the dressing at Mr. Steers works with the iceberg salad. Both things that I normally abhor. I wouldn’t feed iceberg to a pig but I guess I relate that to my first Mr. Steers experience when I was a kid.

    But when it comes to folks not accepting the truth or facts, I say fuck’em. I like to see people embarrass themselves this way. This is where I get smug, stand back and watch them dig their graves.

    Awesome post.

  5. Yup yup, no making your own salad dressing in rural Québec in the 1970s either (yet we produced and ate tons of lettuce). It was as if Kraft was all there was then. And my favourite by far was Catalina! The Italian dressing was my mom’s favourite, but as a kid I wasn’t able to mix it well so I hated it. It wasn’t until I was a teen that I was willing to try creamy whitish stuff, and then I was done for.

    Now the idea of buying salad dressing is quite strange to me. But thinking back, it’s just one of a million ways our collective common food habits have evolved (for the better, phew!).

  6. Wafu is permitted — encouraged even. So are a few other exotic dressings (on occasion). But the Kraft stuff? Not!

  7. My parents still have Catalina dressing in their fridge, as well as several other new and ‘old school’ Kraft dressings, like Russian. As well as olive oil & balasamic to bring them (kind of) into current times.

    Catalina is most definitely orangy-red and it was usually my dressing of choice growing up. 1000 Islands is more salmon-y colour, or, like AJ said, the colour of calamine lotion. Heh.

    The concept of salad dressing totally changed for me when I went to Italy the first time when I was 20. Really good olive oil, and really good red wine vinegar, with fresh lettuce straight from the garden and a bit of salt. Nothing tasted better and is still my preferred salad/dressing if all the ingredients are really good.

    But, I must confess (the Tinman would probably out me anyways) that I have a penchant for certain white trash foods, as he calls them (though in the 70’s it really was just what everyone ate). I just bought a bottle of Kraft French dressing the other day. Sometimes, I just get a craving. Usually not to put it on salad, but to dip veggies in. I love how vinegar-y it tastes. I’ve tried to make my own but as of yet have not found the perfect recipe that gives it that factory taste but with better-for-you ingredients.

    And, you must know that we have a bottle of 1000 islands dressing in our fridge. It is used for one and only one reason: Ruben sandwiches. It does look gross, but is really tasty on the ‘which.

    Totally forgot about those Kraft pizzas! I loved them. I suspect if I had one now, however, I wouldn’t like it so much. Our homemade pizza is just to good.

  8. Hey dude, you’re not allowed to rant like me. It’s officially prohibited by law in West Virginia.

    But I’ll tell you a secret: I’ve always liked Kraft Italian dressing — what’s the kind with the extra spices, my Alzheimer’s is kicking in now — and I’ve secretly used it in many recipes where NO ONE KNEW WHAT THE MAGIC INGREDIENT WAS.

    Sure, Xanthan Gum (which I’ve ranted about before) is not a magic ingredient, but it made MY RECIPES BETTER. Just ask the legions of the satisfied and ignorant.

    However, the cancer that is growing in my stomach is getting uncomfortable, so I must leave you now for the usual chemo. IV Boréale Cuivrée.

    Te salud, and welcome back on board. If you’re Left, you would shorely be mixed.

  9. The Kraft Italian is the one product from their classic line that actually resembles salad dressing… sort of. After all, it’s oil and vinegar and spices (and a lot of sugar). It actually makes a nice marinade for shrimp.

    But those goopy ones like Catalina, Thousand Islands, and (ahem) “French” are something else. They taste “good” in that lowbrow way that we all hate to admit we like (mmmm, salty, oily, and sweet all at the same time!) but they overwhelm a salad. In fact, as a kid I remember salad being just a carrier for the dressing, the way a cracker was just a vehicle to support a huge blob of peanut butter.

    Like The Milliner says, when you’ve had a gorgeous salad made with fresh leafy greens (not iceberg!) dressed with a simple olive oil and vinegar dressing that enhances the leaves (instead of the leaves simply carrying the dressing), and once you really *get* what that’s all about, it changes everything.

    That’s not to say I don’t ever goop up a salad, but it’s nice to keep it simple, especially when the salad itself is super fresh and delish!

    My standard house dressing is olive oil and white balsamic vinegar (about 50/50) with a bit of honey, a touch of dijon mustard, and a pinch of salt. Sometimes I use red wine vinegar just for variety. I mix up enough to last for a week or so and put it in a shakable bottle and Bob’s yer uncle.

  10. I don’t have much to add to this discussion, never having had much salad when I was young, so I’ll say this: here in Hong Kong people are crazy about Thousand Islands. They deep-fry shrimp and lather it in Thousand Islands. Half the pizzas at Pizza Hut use Thousand Islands as a base instead of tomato sauce.

  11. Kraft Thousand Islands is the ONLY dressing my in-laws will put on their salad (which is always iceberg lettuce and tomatoes.) I detest it. Actually, half the time they won’t even fork out for real Kraft dressing. instead they get No Name brand. HURL!!!

  12. But for crying out insanely loud, REAL 1,000 Island dressing is incredibly easy to make from scratch! All it takes is . . . okay, I’m on hold with Kraft, so I’ll get back with you in a moment.

  13. I thought that anybody could tell the difference; it’s easy, one is soybean oil, tomato puree (water, tomato paste), sugar, vinegar, salt, contains less than 2% of xanthan gum, black carrot juice (color), dried onions, phosphoric acid, potassium sorbate and calcium disodium EDTA as preservatives, natural flavor, artificial flavor and the other is tomato puree (water, tomato paste), high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, vinegar, chopped pickles, salt, contains less than 2% of egg yolks, modified food starch, water, dried onions, xanthan gum, polysorbate 60, phosphoric acid, spice, artificial color, mustard flour, with potassium sorbate and calcium disodium edta as preservatives, guar gum, natural flavor, oleoresin turmeric, yellow 5. You could just have asked me.

    By the way, I didn’t know that you have been raised in such a pampered environment, not going out if it was raining… In my mother’s view the weather was never so bad that the children could not go play outside. There was no such thing as bad weather just inadequate clothing, so she made sure that you wear lot’s of it, then threw you out.

  14. We don’t much options in salad dressing where I live (Kochi, India) and hence 1000 Islands is the only one that I have tried. I must have had more when I lived in Kuwait as a kid but I can’t remember the brands. I tried a hotel prepared ‘Russian’ styled one recently and it was quite good.

  15. It really should be quite simple to prepare . . . there must be dozens of recipes on the Internet.

  16. My grandfather worked for Kraft so the food purchases in our house were strongly tilted toward their products. That said, I think my mother rebelled against that a bit by branching out and getting both Seven Seas dressing and Hellemans mayonaise. While I was a big fan of Thousand Island dressing as a kid, I never much cared for Miracle Whip (on sandwiches). My enlightened young adult years switched my preference over to blue cheese while now I’m content with any dressing with garlic or bacon, preferably both. But my preference has always been creamy over tarte.

  17. Here in Northen MN the Red stuff (whatever you want to call it Catalina / French / Western) and Ranch are the big flavors

    Thousand Island dressing goes on Big Macs as their “special” sauce.

    Catalina (French/ western) is my fav as well as Ranch
    I think someone should make Franch dressing

    Catalina , Western and French are all pretty much the same thing …. I think

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