My Thanksgiving menu is traditional and timeless — roast turkey (“Make sure you carve plenty of dark meat!”) and apple-sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, neighbor Anne’s bourboned-up yams, creamed onions and corn pudding, cranberry sauce (fresh for me, canned for Mr. Wonderful, preferably with his scoop showing the indentation made by the top of the can), then pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream.
More recently and at the family’s request, I’ve added the Great Green Bean Bake, AKA, the green-bean casserole topped with French’s fried onions. Somehow in my entire seven decades, I was probably the only American NOT to feature this on my Thanksgiving groaning board.
Originally created by Dorcas Reilly in 1955 in the Campbell’s Soup corporate site kitchen, this inexpensive (cost per recipe: $5.74) and easy-to-make casserole is the most popular recipe to come out of that test kitchen. It’s estimated that more than 20 million Americans cook the green bean bake during the holidays.
So who is Dorcas Reilly? Well, she’s a Jersey girl! Born in southern New Jersey and a graduate of Camden High School, Reilly went to Drexel Institute of Technology (now Drexel University) and received a Bachelor’s degree in home economics. After being hired by the Campbell Soup Company, she concocted the casserole to answer a corporate request for “an easy and quick side dish incorporating two ingredients most housewives have on hand — Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup and green beans.”
“BLAH!,” the company big wigs declared about Reilly’s first attempts. So she spiced it up, adding a dab of soy sauce and French fried onions. “A touch of genius!” a culinary connoisseur declared. And her persistence paid off.
Five years later Campbell’s put this recipe for “the ultimate comfort food” on its mushroom soup cans. In 2002, the company donated Reilly’s original and hand-written recipe card to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
During the darkest days of the Great Depression, Campbell’s cream of mushroom-flavored soup was created and widely used as a casserole filler in the Midwest (the land of casseroles!), so much so that it was sometimes labeled the “Lutheran binder.” Nowadays, the company estimates that a whopping 40% of its cream of mushroom soup is bought specifically to make the green bean casserole.
Sadly, Dorcas Reilly died on October 15 in Camden, New Jersey. She was 92 years old. Happily, her legacy is still enjoyed by millions, even at my house on Thanksgiving.
AND HERE IT IS!: Classic Green Bean Casserole recipe
1 can (10 1/2 ounces) Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup (or Campbell’s Condensed 98% fat-free Cream of Mushroom Soup)
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Dash of black pepper
4 cups cooked cut green beans
(Special tip for the cooked green beans — drain 2 cans (14.5 oz. each) green beans; or thaw and drain 16 to 20 ounces frozen green beans; or cook 1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans. All yield approximately four cups needed for recipe.)
1 1/3 cup French’s French fried onion
Directions: Stir soup, milk, soy sauce, pepper and green beans and 2/3 cup onions into a 1 1/2 quart casserole.
Bake at 350 for 25 minutes, or until mixture is hot and bubbling. Stir the mixture. Top with remaining onions. Bake five minutes more or until onions are golden and crispy.