Dorcas Reilly inventor of green bean casserole dies at 92

Dorcas Reilly in the Campbell's Test Kitchen, 1948. (Image courtesy of Campbell's)

Dorcas Reilly in the Campbell's Test Kitchen, 1948. (Image courtesy of Campbell's)

Dorcas Reilly, 92, the creator of one of the most beloved recipes in America, Campbell Soup’s Green Bean Casserole has died at the age of 92.

Reilly of Haddonfield, New Jersey. passed away on Monday, October 15, at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden.

Back in 1955, when Dorcas Reilly was part of Campbell’s home economics department, she set out to develop an easy and creative way to encourage people to eat more vegetables, she never imagined the resulting recipe would become a pot-luck staple.

“I was so delighted that people were enjoying it,” Reilly told WHYY in 2016. “And I just thought, well OK, fine. Eat it and have fun.”

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Reilly graduated from Drexel University with a degree in home economics. While working for Campbell’s Soup, she was trying to develop a recipe that could be made from ingredients that most people would be able to find in their kitchens.

Peas, lima beans, and corn were all nixed before Reilly decided on the final recipe for green bean casserole.

Fashion and trends may have changed a lot since the 1950s, but people across the country are still serving Reilly’s classic six-ingredient dish.

Jane Freiman, the director of Campbell’s consumer test kitchen, oversees the development of new recipes for the company. She said the process hasn’t changed all that much since Reilly’s days in the test kitchen. They go through several rounds of tasting before they’re released to the public.  

Freiman said she’s not surprised the concoction, comprising condensed cream of mushroom soup, milk, soy sauce, French-fried onions, and a dash of pepper is still on holiday tables today. “Six ingredients, you can make it in about 35 minutes, and it is all family pleasing,” she said. “And to this day those ingredients are common ingredients that are in people’s homes.”

Campbell’s archivist Sarah Rice said green bean casserole was first introduced to the public through print ads in the early 1960s.

“There is nothing fancy or snooty about it, but at the same time it’s distinctly American,” said Rice. “Anyone and everyone can make it, can afford it, and can cook it. And it doesn’t matter who you are or your station, you really are going to enjoy it. It’s a classic taste for sure.”

Reilly’s husband, Tom, who kept a brag book of his wife’s accomplishments and press clippings, said he never tired of the dish. “The beauty of the green bean casserole is two — well, three things. Number one: Very few ingredients in it. It’s very simple; anybody can prepare it. Even I can do it. Number Two: It tastes very good. Number Three: It’s easy and inexpensive.”

Despite its wild popularity, her green bean casserole has maintained over the years, Reilly remained incredibly modest about it. “I’m thrilled that people are still enjoying it and passing it on to others,” she told WHYY.

Rob Zawatski did the original reporting for this story.

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