Food Friday: Thank You, Dorcas Reilly!


In two short weeks Thanksgiving will be over – except for the best part with the Pilgrim sandwiches, and some leftover pumpkin pie, smuggled cold from the fridge and eaten hastily while standing at the pantry window, looking out over the swirl of black leaves in your childhood home’s back yard.

Thanksgiving can be fraught with peril: although the food remains basically the same, the group dynamics change annually; the rules and the dance partners are as varied and intricate as any Regency dance in a Jane Austen novel. There are always new partners, babies, newish children, a different kitchen, family recipes, new recipes, store-bought, homemade, football, gossip and hurt feelings.

I almost overlooked an obituary in the New York Times a few weeks ago. Dorcas Reilly died in New Jersey. She was 92. Reilly invented the almost ubiquitous Green Bean Casserole that appears on so many Thanksgiving dinner tables. Modestly, Reilly asserted she was just part of the team that developed the dish at Campbell’s Soup in Camden, New Jersey in 1955. They were looking for a tasty, economical side dish. It has just six ingredients, and it can be easily assembled by anyone. It became an institution; it was America at its most homogenous and bland. Campbell’s estimates that 20 million green bean casseroles will be prepared in the United States this Thanksgiving. Imagine being the person who was responsible for such an institution. Will you have a green bean casserole on your table?

Campbell’s Green Bean Casserole (originally called Green Bean Bake)

1 10 3/4-ounce can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon soy sauce
A dash of pepper
4 cups cut green beans
1-1/3 cups of French fried onions

Mix soup, milk, soy, pepper, beans and 2/3 cup onions in 1-1/2-quart casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until hot. Stir. Sprinkle with remaining onions. Bake five minutes. Serves six.

The genius was adding the crunchy French fried onions, which I could happily eat by the handful, out of the can, any day of the week. It is a Thanksgiving moment I relish!

But we live in different times, and as much as we would like to remember our childhood holidays, there are new memories to be made. So when you are helping in someone else’s kitchen this year, be aware of the minefield of kale salads and chestnut brioche stuffings. Bring some nice wine and offer to wash and dry the dishes. There is a new crop of home cooks ready to stretch their wings, and they are going to smoke turkeys in the Big Green Egg. And they have their own green bean casserole recipes.

Thank you, Dorcas Reilly, for so many memorable Thanksgivings.

This is a labor-intensive recipe, best brought to a potluck Thanksgiving, when you can boast about making the mushroom sauce from scratch. No sodium-riddled canned soup for you!

This must be prepared on-site, so be sure that there will be an available burner, or two:

This recipe can be made in advance, but it eliminates all the fun of the French fried onions, and it makes you make bread crumbs! Shocking!

This is a thrifty version, that is probably healthier, because it introduces another vegetable. But it, too, eliminates the French fried onions. Obviously not my first choice: You can make this in advance, though it will require about 15 minutes in the oven, to warm up before serving.

I like this, even though shallots are used. But I think this will appeal to the sensibilities of our gourmands-in-training hosts this year. I’ll just smuggle in a can of French fried onions to snack on while assisting in the food prep and the wine tasting.

Get organized! The Thanksgiving clock is ticking down!

“What we’re really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?”
Erma Bombeck

About Jean Sanders


Letters to Editor

  1. Nancy Tinucci says

    I worked with Dorcas Reilly’s son in New Jersey for a while. He was so very proud of his mother and her recipe. Yes, there are some newer versions – more healthy ones, less caloric ones, etc. but the original one is still a knock-out in my opinion. Bless her heart for her contributions to Campbell Soup Company and the never-ending success of the Green Bean Casserole.

Write a Letter to the Editor on this Article

We encourage readers to offer their point of view on this article by submitting the following form. Editing is sometimes necessary and is done at the discretion of the editorial staff.
We're glad you're enjoying The Chestertown Spy.

Sign up for the the free email blast to see what's new in the Spy. It's delivered right to your inbox at 3PM sharp.

Sign up here.