The woman who invented the green bean casserole
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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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

  • 26trthor
    12/05/2019 - 10:29 a.m.

    I think that it is cool that they would write about this girl.Since it is a popular food to eat I think they should write about everyone who created a popular food to eat on a holiday.

  • 26sgbock
    12/05/2019 - 10:33 a.m.

    I think it was such a hit because it was cheap and easy to make and it was thought of during war time so that was convenient. Also Campbells started to put the recipe on the soup cans that you need to make the green bean casserole so that made more people see and try to make it.

  • 26acanan
    12/05/2019 - 10:40 a.m.

    maybe it was useful because it didn't take a lot of effort to make it, and it wasn't that hard to mass up. Also didn't need a lot of ingredients.

  • 26klpetr
    12/05/2019 - 10:41 a.m.

    This was a great story, I didn't know that 20 million would eat the green bean casserole. I also didn't know it endured over the ages. I also didn't know they called it the green bean bake. I really liked this story because it talk's about baking and I personally like baking.

  • 26jpquin
    12/10/2019 - 10:39 a.m.

    Because it was made by someone who did something great in life! All they had that might've been good back then was green beans, (until the advanced foods came out). It was mostly canned green beans too. I think it's really good. When I had it, it was so good!

  • 26jrhaas
    1/07/2020 - 10:27 a.m.

    The idea of knowing a inventor is pretty neat and it was such a simple recipe to make that you'd think you could come up with it easily! :D

  • 26mlhans
    1/07/2020 - 10:30 a.m.

    I think that it was such a hit because it was an easy dinner and it was good to many people. Plus Campbell was a very big company so a lot of people say the adds for it. It only had 6 ingredients too.

  • 26njsara
    1/09/2020 - 10:52 a.m.

    It was new. Packers fans would like the green.

  • Samantha L-bab
    6/06/2020 - 04:27 p.m.

    I think the top reason green bean casserole was such a hit when it came out was because,like they wrote in the text, that the dish had to be made out of ingredients that most people would have in their house. Another reason why it was such a hit is probably because we could try a different dish instead of the same, old, boring dishes we used to have and turn our taste buds to something new.

  • Kaylee H-bab
    6/06/2020 - 04:28 p.m.

    I think that it was a big hit because it the ingredients were cheap and it could be made quickly.

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