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Remembering Dorcas Reilly, Inventor Of The Classic Green-Bean Casserole

DORCAS REILLY: This Thanksgiving, we remember a woman who has made a mark on millions of Thanksgiving tables, including, perhaps, the one that you are at today. Dorcas Reilly, the creator of green bean casserole, died last month. In 1955, she was working in the home economics department of the Campbell Soup Company. Her job was to come up with creative ways to use Campbell's products - tuna noodle casserole, sloppy Joe souper burgers - that's S-O-U-P-er (ph) burgers.

The dish first known as a green bean bake combined two kitchen staples at the time, green beans and cream of mushroom soup. She tested. She tinkered. She put it in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, and the green bean casserole was born. Reilly had no idea the dish would become a holiday classic. In interviews, she said she didn't even remember creating it. Here she is at her alma mater, Drexel University, in 2009.


REILLY: I love to go to work every day, and I am just overwhelmed. As they say, that was just another day's work.



Well, thanks to that day's work, Campbell's estimates that 40 percent of its cream of mushroom soup sales end up in green bean casserole. Reilly always insisted the invention was a team effort. And 60 years later, the six-ingredient dish is almost as much a part of Thanksgiving as the turkey. One ingredient in particular might be the stroke of genius.


LAURA SHAPIRO: The reason people like it decade after decade has everything to do with the French fried onion rings because of the salt and the fat and the crunch. I mean, it's the kind of product that people love.

SHAPIRO: That's Linda (ph) Shapiro - no relation. She's a culinary historian and author of "Something From The Oven: Reinventing Dinner In 1950s America." These days, as food trends rise and fall all the time, she says green bean casserole's secret weapon is its familiarity.

SHAPIRO: Thanksgiving, you don't necessarily want something new. Food people are always saying - oh, you know, time for bok choy sauteed with a little sprinkling of prosciutto. No, people don't want that. They want green bean casserole, just as they did in 1955, because it reminded them of themselves.

SHAPIRO: In 2002, Campbell's donated Dorcas Reilly's original recipe card to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. And Reilly kept cooking. She said in 2013 that she was still experimenting in her own kitchen. Her motto at work and at home, she said, was food should be fun; food should be happy. Dorcas Reilly died last month. She was 92 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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