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 with just six ingredients. It uses a can of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup and milk. It has soy sauce and black pepper. It also has green beans and crunchy fried onions. 

It's a retro recipe. It has been appearing on American tables 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 at the home economics department of a Campbell's test kitchen in Camden, New Jersey. That was in 1955. She was tasked with creating a recipe. It was for a feature that would appear in the Associated Press. The recipe had to be based on ingredients that any home cook would have on hand. It also had to include Campbell's mushroom soup and green beans.

Dorcas earned a degree in home economics 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 ham to the recipe. That's according to Today's Vidya Rao.

She ultimately settled on six simple ingredients. They were affordable. They could be stirred together in a casserole dish. Then they were popped into the oven for 25 minutes. The prep time was minimal. 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 and fuss-free. That kind of cooking was all the rage. Wartime rations on canned goods had been lifted. There were innovations in canning and freezing. These made packaged foods more accessible than ever. This created a culture of convenience cooking. An ever-growing number of women were entering the workforce. But they continued to shoulder the responsibility of keeping the family fed. This fueled the demand for easy-to-make meals.

The dish was originally called "Green Bean Bake." Dorcas' dish really took off when Campbell's began printing the recipe on its mushroom soup cans. That's according to Karen Zraick of the New York Times. Dorcas had created many recipes for the company. These recipes included tuna noodle casserole and Sloppy Joe's 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 endured over the ages. Forty percent of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup sales go towards making the dish. That's what a spokesperson told Rao in 2015. You can find upgraded versions of the recipe. Bon Appétit recommends ditching the canned soup for whole milk, cream and fresh cremini mushrooms. Reilly's hand-written original recipe card even made it into the archives of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Reilly's pioneering accomplishments were not limited to the test kitchen. She was born in 1926, 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 from her alma mater. She took time off to raise her children in 1961. She returned to the company two decades later. She rose to manager of the Campbell's Kitchen. It was a position she held until her retirement in 1988. Reilly was never one to trumpet her achievements. That's according to her son, Thomas B. Reilly. He spoke with Bonnie L. Cook of 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


COMMENTS (15)
  • 26amtess
    11/26/2019 - 10:38 a.m.

    I think it was such a hit because it had only a couple of ingredients which was very useful at that time as more mothers were entering the workforce it made a cheap, easy, and fast dinner

  • 26otgere
    11/26/2019 - 10:44 a.m.

    I think it was a big hit because for thanksgiving maybe they wanted try something new and not the same old thanksgiving dinner so they can try something new

  • 26bkvees
    11/26/2019 - 10:47 a.m.

    People at the time must have found ways to preserve it well, or people were REALLY into green beans at the time.

  • 26nrcart
    11/26/2019 - 10:52 a.m.

    I think it was such a big hit was because it was healthy yet delicious. It was also new and most of the time things that were new everyone wanted to try so they would buy it or make it

  • 26grkino
    11/26/2019 - 10:54 a.m.

    It was easy to make and not only that its affordable.
    You can change the recipe to your taste. I can say the inventor has changed life's to. Those are the many ideas to the green bean casserole. That's what the casserole has to offer.

  • 26kadubo
    12/03/2019 - 10:43 a.m.

    The main reason is because it was something different and it was something new. I've never had green bean casserole but I bet it's good!

  • Audrey-E2
    12/03/2019 - 10:50 a.m.

    who wood not like thanks giving dinner expensively the warm buttery rolls and the green bean casserole?this article is about the woman that made the green bean casserole and it became very popular.i think that this article is a good story and it is kind of cool to learn about green bean casserole.

  • 26ymberr
    12/03/2019 - 11:03 a.m.

    Green bean casserole was such a big hit,because green beans were probably what was eaten a lot at the time.It was also very easy to make since it only had six ingredients.

  • 26ehprin
    12/03/2019 - 11:06 a.m.

    Campbell is such a popular company, so I think that if Campbell promoted the green bean casserole, a lot of people would try it. I also think a lot of people enjoy it, so they share it, and the chain continues.

  • Rachel-E2
    12/04/2019 - 10:21 a.m.

    This article was about the woman who created green bean casserole. I never knew that it was first called "green bean bake." Dorcas Reilly's hand written recipe card actually made it to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. I think it is really cool that her recipe became so popular so quickly. I'm very surprised that not many people know about her.

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