Dorcas Reilly, 1926–2018
The culinary inventor who created a Thanksgiving staple
Dorcas Reilly was working as a supervisor at the Campbell Soup Co.’s test kitchen in Camden, N.J., in 1955 when a request came in from the Associated Press. The news agency wanted to run a simple recipe for a vegetable side dish based on green beans and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. Reilly and her team got to work, testing, re-testing and grading recipes until they came up with the green bean casserole. The cooked beans and soup were stirred together in a casserole dish with a bit of milk, soy sauce and black pepper and then popped in the oven for 25 minutes. Add a sprinkling of crunchy fried onions, and the dish was ready to serve. It was the perfect side for convenience-hungry postwar America and would become a national favorite and a Thanksgiving staple—an estimated 20 million–plus households will serve green bean casserole this Turkey Day. “I’m very proud of this [dish],” said Reilly.
Born in Woodbury, N.J., to a homemaker mother and an electrician father, Reilly “was one of the first members of her family to attend college,” said SmithsonianMag.com, earning a bachelor’s degree in home economics from what is now Drexel University. She joined Campbell’s in 1949 and created hundreds of soup-based recipes in the test kitchen, including a tuna noodle casserole and Sloppy Joe–like souperburgers.
After Reilly retired from Campbell’s in 1988, said The Washington Post, she saw her green bean casserole reach new levels of culinary glory. In 2002, Campbell’s donated Reilly’s original yellow recipe card to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, where it sits near “Thomas Edison’s lightbulb and phonograph and Enrico Fermi’s first controlled nuclear reactor.”