Even if the name Dorcas Reilly doesn’t ring a bell, you’re likely familiar with her iconic culinary creation. Way back in 1955, Reilly, who served as the Test Kitchen Manager for the Campbell Soup Company (which is currently celebrating its 150th anniversary), was tasked with developing a vegetable side dish that incorporates the brand’s popular Cream of Mushroom Soup. Beyond this essential component, the objective for the recipe was twofold: It needed to be easy to prepare, and, most importantly, taste great. Little did Reilly know that she was on the path to creating one of the most beloved items on the Thanksgiving table, green bean casserole.
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Cream of the Crop
Though Reilly tinkered with several different Cream of Mushroom Soup dishes, her green bean casserole (originally called green bean bake) managed to hit all the right marks. Beyond the soup and signature vegetable, the recipe only consists of four other easily accessible ingredients—milk, soy sauce, black pepper, and fried onions. (During the development stage Worcestershire sauce was also used but it failed to make the final cut.)
Then there’s the fact the dish is relatively foolproof, requiring only 10 minutes of prep time and another 30 to cook the casserole.
But, of course, flavor is everything, which is why green bean casserole has endured after nearly 65 years. According to Maria Gamble, Executive Chef, Campbell’s Culinary & Innovation Hub, it’s the interplay of “creamy comfort” and “varying textures” that makes the dish stand out.
Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup (4 pack), $3.16 on Amazon
If you're preparing a classic green bean casserole recipe for Thanksgiving, Cream of Mushroom Soup is essential.
Despite its incredible longevity, the casserole wasn’t an instant hit. “Over time, the growth happened,” says Gamble who attributes word-of-mouth to the dish’s eventual success. “Once you start to talk about it more, and people start to realize how easy it is to put together, it gets this popularity.” When the recipe finally found its way, years after its inception, onto the Cream of Mushroom Soup can label, its fate was sealed.
Giving Thanks to a Simple Side
Though it became a year-round staple, green bean casserole would find its sweet spot during Thanksgiving as a star side attraction. It’s a dish perfectly suited for Turkey Day—not only is it a crowd-pleaser, but if you happen to be playing host of one of the most stressful meals of the year, the relatively effortless task of preparing it and the ease of scaling it up for a large group are thoroughly embraced. “I think when you’re cooking for guests, you want to make sure that what you’re making is going to work,” she says.
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According to Gamble, 20 million families serve green bean casserole during the holiday and 40 percent of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup that is sold during November is used in the dish. “That’s pretty astounding when you think about the numbers,” she adds. “I kind of have to remind myself ‘Wow. That’s going on a lot of tables.’”
While most households stick to the original six components, there have been some variations on the classic recipe over the years: crispy jalapeños joining crispy onions for a spicy kick, additions of cheese and bacon, broccoli tagging in for green beans. There’s even a keto-friendly Instant Pot version which ditches the soup.
“It is kind of a canvas that you can experiment with,” says Gamble, who prepares a version of the dish that includes toasted almonds, crisp pancetta, and fresh herbs, though she admits it has yet to make its way into her family’s Thanksgiving roster. “When I offer to add some twists or zhuzh it up, family members are like, ‘Nope. Gotta keep it tried-and-true.’”
Gone, But Not Forgotten
As for Dorcas Reilly, she sadly passed away in October of 2018 at the age of 92. Though she is no longer with us, her legacy will surely live on for years to come.