She may not be a household name, but Dorcas Reilly is a household staple: Her iconic Campbell's Soup green bean casserole is served in more than 20 million American homes each Thanksgiving and, the rest of the year, acts as a quintessential comfort dish that can be popped in and out of the oven in less than 30 minutes.
Reilly, a 1947 graduate of Drexel University's Home Economics program, was one of the first two full-time employees at Campbell's Camden, New Jersey, home economics department, where she worked in the test kitchen to develop new recipes.
Originally invented in 1955 as a "green bean bake" for an Associated Press story asking for a vegetable side dish made with pantry staples, the casserole calls for just six ingredients: a can of Campbell's condensed cream of mushroom soup, milk, soy sauce, black pepper, green beans, and crispy French-fried onions. It was a wholesome home-cooked meal crafted in an Atomic Age that celebrated canned goods and convenience cooking, but its combination of creamy, crunchy, and salty has stood the test of time.
Today, more than 60 years later, Campbell's estimates upward of 40 percent of their condensed mushroom soup sales are used to make Reilly's casserole — the recipe is even printed on the back of the can.
"Dorcas would often share that the first time she made her famous recipe, it did not receive the highest rating in Campbell's internal testing," wrote the company in an October memorial for Reilly's passing. "Yet, it was her persistence and creativity that led to an enduring recipe that will live on for decades to come."
Reilly worked for the company off and on from the 1940s through the 1980s, when she retired as manager of the Campbell's Kitchen in 1988. In addition to her lasting bean legacy, she also invented hundreds of other soup-infused recipes, including a tuna noodle casserole, tomato soup cake, and tomato soup sloppy Joes.
In 2002, Campbell's donated Reilly's original recipe card to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Alexandria, Virginia, placing her patented legacy alongside the likes of Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, and Steve Wozniak.
"I'm very proud of this," she said of the recipe in a Campbell's video, "and I was shocked when I realized how popular it had become."
The official Campbell’s Kitchen Green Bean Casserole recipe:
1 can Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 dash black pepper
4 cups cooked cut green beans
1 1/3 cups French’s French-fried onions
Instructions: Stir the soup, milk, soy sauce, black pepper, beans, and 2/3 cup onions in a 1 1/2-quart casserole. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until the bean mixture is hot and bubbling. Stir the bean mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining onions. Bake for 5 minutes or until the onions are golden brown.
From "The people who died, 2018."
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