The woman who invented the green bean casserole Dorcas Reilly preparing her famous green bean casserole at the Campbell Soup corporate kitchen in 2005. (AP/Sousvideguy/Flickr)
The woman who invented the green bean casserole
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This Thanksgiving, some 20 million Americans will eat green bean casserole. It's a culinary classic. It has six ingredients. It uses a can of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup. It has milk. It has soy sauce. It has black pepper. It has green beans. And it has fried onions. They are crunchy.

It's a retro recipe. It has been served for more than 60 years. It can be traced back to a woman named Dorcas Reilly. She died in October last year.

Dorcas worked as a supervisor. She worked in a home economics department. It was at Campbell's test kitchen. That is in Camden, New Jersey. That was in 1955. She was tasked with creating a recipe. It was for a feature. It would appear in the Associated Press. The recipe had to be based on simple ingredients. Any home cook would have them on hand. It also had to include Campbell's mushroom soup. And it had to have green beans.

Dorcas earned a degree in home economics. It was from Drexel University. It was known then as the Drexel Institute of Technology. She got to tinkering. She and her team initially toyed with adding celery salt. And they thought of using ham in the recipe. That's according to Today's Vidya Rao.

She ultimately settled on six ingredients. They were simple. They were cheap. They could be stirred together. They were made in a casserole dish. They were popped into the oven. They cooked for 25 minutes. The prep time was short. The dish worked well with frozen or canned green beans. The fried onions were pre-packaged.

It was the perfect recipe for post-War America. It was cheap. It was fuss-free. That kind of cooking was all the rage. Wartime rations on canned goods had been lifted. There were innovations in canning. And there were innovations in freezing. These made packaged foods more handy. This created a culture of convenience cooking. More women were going to work. But they continued to carry the task of keeping the family fed. This fueled the demand for easy-to-make meals.

The dish was originally called "Green Bean Bake." Dorcas' dish took off. That happened when Campbell's began printing the recipe. It appeared on its mushroom soup cans. That's according to Karen Zraick. She is with the New York Times. 

Dorcas created many recipes for the company. One recipe was tuna noodle casserole. Another recipe was for Sloppy Joe's. These were made from tomato soup. She was somewhat surprised that the green bean casserole proved to be such a hit.

"We all thought this is very nice, etc. And then when we got the feelings of the consumer. We were really kinda pleasantly shocked," Reilly once said. That's according to Today's Rao. 

"I'm very proud of this. And I was shocked when I realized how popular it had become."

Green bean casserole has stuck around. Forty percent of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup sales go to making the dish. That's what a spokesperson told Rao. That was in 2015. You can find upgraded versions of the recipe. Bon Appétit has one. They recommend ditching the canned soup. Their recipe calls for whole milk. It calls for cream. And it uses fresh cremini mushrooms. Reilly's hand-written original recipe card even made it into the archives of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Reilly has many pioneering triumphs. They were not limited to the test kitchen. She was born in 1926. She was born in Woodbury, New Jersey. She was raised in Camden. She became one of the first members in her family to attend college. She was a supervisor at Campbell's. 

"She was a trailblazer in a world in which women were generally on the sidelines of corporate America." That's according to a video tribute. It was from her alma mater. She took time off to raise her children. That was in 1961. She returned to the company. That happened two decades later. She rose to manager. She managed the Campbell's Kitchen. It was a position she held until her retirement. That was in 1988. Reilly was never one to trumpet her feats. That's according to her son. His name is Thomas B. Reilly. He spoke with Bonnie L. Cook. She is with the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"She was not a flashy person," he says. "She didn't bask in the limelight. She just went in and did her job every day. Like most blue-collar people."

Reilly's approach to cooking was similarly salt-of-the-earth. "I think food should be fun," she once said. "And food should be happy."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What do you think was the top reason green bean casserole was such a hit when it came out?
Write your answers in the comments section below


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