The History of Green Bean Casserole

I did not grow up with Green Bean Casserole as part of my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Actually, my first attempt at making and tasting this dish was for this blog post. Knowing my mother, when planning a menu with all the stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs and I think you get my point, thought another casserole was just not needed. Our veggie side dish was (well still is) usually roasted Brussels sprouts, green beans almondine (or amandine) or whatever was on sale in the frozen food section. Don’t worry Green Bean Casserole lovers. This is not a hit piece and hopefully, I do your beloved casserole right!

What ingredients are in Green Bean Casserole?
Green Bean Casserole is a dish made with green beans (usually canned or frozen), cream of mushroom soup, soy sauce, and fried onions. While the onions are the most popular topping for this casserole, some like to top the casserole with almonds, potato chips, or crackers. Other recipes may omit the soy sauce

Who and where was Green Bean Casserole created?
The recipe was created in 1955 by Campbell’s Test kitchen. It is credited to Dorcas Reilly who was one of the first full-time home economists for Campbell’s. Reilly was inspired to create an easy-to-make recipe with items that would already be present in a 1950s kitchen and that the recipe “reflected the tastes – and pantries – of the time”. According to her: ”Fresh mushrooms weren’t available year-round and they were expensive. At the time, even frozen green beans weren’t common. Canned varieties were. The green bean casserole was simple and had a lot of appeal.”

Dorcas Reilly 1950s

Dorcas Reilly in the Campbell’s Soup Test Kitchen (1950s) source pennlive.com

The original name for the recipe according to Campbell’s was Green Bean Bake. It also did not test well initially with internal taste testers for the company. It was Dorcas Reilly who supposedly added the dash of soy sauce that elevated the recipe. Reilly said to a 2005 newspaper that she doesn’t quite remember creating the famous casserole as in a year the home economists could be testing a thousand recipes.

When was Green Bean Casserole popular?
I think anyone living in America with eyes already knows that this is a super popular recipe for Thanksgiving. As the holiday approaches, most grocery stores will start making end caps of canned green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and french fried onions. According to Campbell’s, it is their most requested recipe. In 2004, the company says that 20 million households included the casserole on their Thanksgiving table. A 2000 survey commissioned by Campbell’s said that 44% of people say that the casserole is their favorite veggie side dish and a must-have on their holiday menu. 

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Though it is a popular dish, many people still don’t know the origins lie with the Campbell’s Soup Company. Actually, many think that it is a recipe that was created by a family member who is known to bring the dish to the holidays. A test kitchen vice-president found out the secret when they started working for Campbells and told their mother the origins of the casserole at a family holiday. Her mother got angry insisting that it was her aunt’s recipe. A newspaper columnist in 1998 joked that she thought her mother created the recipe until she found out it was popular on other people’s Thanksgiving tables too. Dorcas Reilly was fine with people not knowing the origins as she said that it was “no longer just a Campbell’s recipe. It’s become a family recipe. That’s what I’m most proud of and humbled by”.

Campbell’s first tv ads didn’t start until the late 90s

The recipe is so ingrained into the American food lexicon that it was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio in 2002. Dorcas Reilly herself presented the original recipe card for Green Bean Casserole. It was honored for being a “significant piece of Americana” and for “its enduring contribution to the holiday meal”.

The creator of the dish, Dorcas Reilly who is also referred to as the “mother of all comfort foods”, felt that the enduring legacy of this dish is because the ingredients are still accessible past the 1950s as well as the versatility of the recipe. It is a recipe that can be easily tweaked to one’s own taste. Campbell’s Test Kitchen has tried to improve on the recipe but has never been quite successful.

Why should I make Green Bean Casserole?
This dish may not be important to my family but it has touched A LOT of others. A 1998 article said, “It has become part of the nation’s cooking heritage, making regular appearances at holiday gatherings, potluck suppers, and family celebrations.” Later in 2003, another newspaper wrote that many “reserve a prominent place on their holiday tables for the time-honored classic – Green Bean Casserole”. On its 50th anniversary it was called as much of a “Thanksgiving fixture as football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade for many families” as well as a “creamy, crunchy…must have”. So give it a try and it may become a prized dish for your family as well.

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How do you make Green Bean Casserole?
This is just one of the many ways to make this dish. I came across so many recipes with slight variations. Let me know in the comments how you make Green Bean Casserole.

Green Bean Casserole

  • Servings: 8 to 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

That classic Thanksgiving casserole

Ingredients

  • 4 cups frozen cut green beans, thawed and drained of extra liquid. (Canned greens beans can be substituted).
  • 2 10.5 ounces can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 2 cups French fried onions

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the green beans, cans of soup, milk, soy sauce and 1 cup of the French fried onion.
  3. Pour into a casserole dish, and top with remaining French fried onions.
  4. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the casserole is bubbly and heated through.


Sources:
Byrn, Anne. The Dinner Doctor. United States: Rodale, 2004.

Castorino, Christie. Heroines of Haddonfield 1713-2013. United States: Xlibris US, 2013.

Eldredge, Richard L. “Spilling the Beans About Casserole’s Origins”. The Tuscaloosa News. December 28, 2005.

“Green Bean Casserole: A Holiday Must-Have Year After Year”. The Hinton News. December 25, 2007.

“Green Bean Casserole Oldie But Goodie”. Reading Eagle. November 16, 2005.

“Green Bean Casserole a Perennial Favorite”.  Daily Union. April 22, 1998.

“Green Bean Casserole Remains An American Tradition”. The Rockmart Journal. January 15, 2003.

Leasure, Jan. “Let Thanksgiving Be Test Run For Contest Entry”. Herald-Journal. November 11, 1998.

Linn, Allison. “How About Green Bean Casserole Soda?” Times Daily. November 9, 2004.

“Make Ahead Cabbage Rolls Save Time and Money”. The Dispatch. August 27, 1973.

Meehan, Mary. “The King of Casseroles”. The Day. December 18, 2002.

Mulvihill, Geoff. “50 Years Later, Green Bean Casserole Hasn’t Gone Out of Style”. Herald-Journal. November 20, 2005.

“Thanksgiving Dishes”. The Albany Herald November 6, 1996.

“The Real American Idol: Campbell’s Green Bean Casserole.” The Bryan Times. March 15, 2006.

The Social History of the American Family: An Encyclopedia. United States: SAGE Publications, 2014.

“Time to Try New Bean Casserole”. The Dispatch. September 30, 1969.

https://www.campbellsoupcompany.com/newsroom/nutrition/memory-american-inventor-dorcas-reilly/

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