- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2005

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. — It only seems as if it has been part of Thanksgiving dinner forever.

Green bean casserole, the super-simple dish that is now as much a Thanksgiving fixture as football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for many families, turns 50 this year.

The casserole — made with green beans and cream of mushroom soup topped with crunchy fried onions — is the most popular recipe ever to come out of the corporate kitchen at Campbell Soup Co. in Camden.

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Dorcas Reilly, a Campbell Soup kitchen supervisor in 1955, was the driving force behind the dish, company officials said. But Mrs. Reilly, 79, doesn’t remember having a hand in it and said the dish was among hundreds created (after all, she helped create a tomato soup meatloaf, a tuna noodle casserole and Sloppy Joe-like “souperburgers”).

For Campbell, the introduction of green bean casserole was more memorable. The company estimates it sells $20 million worth of cream of mushroom soup each year just to people following Mrs. Reilly’s recipe, or versions of it.

The recipe, created for an Associated Press feature in 1955, is still a fixture on soup can labels and, this time of year, Campbell television commercials.

It has gained in popularity even as other food-package recipes have foundered. In 1993, 35 percent of grocery shoppers surveyed by the market research company NPD Group said they used recipes on food packages at least once a month. By 2002, the last year for which the data are available, that number was down to 27 percent.

Last November and December, the company says, more than 152,000 people looked up the recipe on Campbell’s Web site (www.campbellsoup.com). That was on top of the folks who got it from soup cans or family recipe cards.

Kate Drohan, 51, of Maple Shade said the casserole has been part of her family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for more than 30 years.

“We never have leftovers,” she said. “It’s the one thing that goes that day.”

Mrs. Reilly, who worked for Campbell’s on and off between the late 1940s and 1988, said that whenever the company held recipe contests, she typically would see “homemade” variations of the casserole soup-can recipe. “It would be Aunt Suzy’s or Grandma’s,” she said.

Earlier this year, Campbell’s gathered up women in Milwaukee to talk about the dish.

Older women told the company that it is so easy to make that even young kitchen novices or the family’s worst cooks can’t mess it up, said Jennifer Hartley, a senior brand manager at Campbell.

Although the basic recipe is simple, others like to tinker with the ingredients.

John Nihoff, a professor of gastronomy at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., said he has not eaten the dish since he was a child. If he made one now, he would try a fancier version: “Now, if I had it with heirloom organic beans, I’m sure it would be pretty darn good,” he said.

Even its creator keeps changing her ways with the casserole.

Mrs. Reilly always keeps the ingredients for the casserole on hand in her Haddonfield home just in case someone asks her to whip one up. This Thanksgiving, her family will get a new version — with carrots.

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