Dorcas Reilly : Who is she? and Why Are We Thankful For Her This Thanksgiving?

Dorcas Reilly

It started with a call from the Associated Press and a question: What’s a good recipe for a vegetable side dish that features common pantry products? It is the dish everyone is expecting on the holidays, and it is so easy to make, you can serve it any day. If you plan on eating green bean casserole this Thanksgiving, the memory of it’s inventor will live on. Created by Campbell Test Kitchen Manager Dorcas Reilly in 1955, its creamy, smooth sauce and un-matchable flavor combined with its simplicity makes Green Bean Casserole so appealing. Just six ingredients and 10 minutes to put together, this family pleasing side has been a favorite for over 60 years.

In 1955, the AP, like other newspapers and magazines of the time, was running a feature of an easy-to-make Campbell’s Soup side. The question came with a caveat: the recipe had to be built around green beans and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, two items most Americans regularly had in their homes in the ’50s.

The request fell to the Campbell’s Soup Co. test kitchen in Camden, N.J., an arm of the company that focused on coming up with recipes for its products. Dorcas Reilly, a supervisor for Campbell’s home economics department, was tasked with leading her team to figure out what could be done. The group would test and grade recipes repeatedly. Only a perfect score would qualify it as ready to go. In November of that year, Reilly and her team settled on what would be first known as “the Green Bean Bake,” an easily adaptable six-ingredient recipe of green beans, cream of mushroom soup, milk, soy sauce, black pepper and French fried onions that takes 10 minutes to prep and 30 minutes to bake.

dorcas reilly

Photo Credit: Campbell’s Soup

“We worked in the kitchen with things that were most likely to be in most homes,” she told NPR in 2015. “It’s so easy. And it’s not an expensive thing to make, too.”

During a time when many women were homemakers, Reilly embarked on a career at Campbell’s Soup in Camden, New Jersey.  She worked in the test kitchens, where she and her colleagues brainstormed recipes that used Campbell’s products, and then did blind taste-tests. The test kitchen employees rated a recipe on a scale of one to ten, tweaked it if necessary, and then submitted it to headquarters for approval. When Campbell’s started to put Reilly’s recipe on the cans of its cream of mushroom soup in 1960, the popularity of the dish hit new heights. More than 60 years since the dish was invented, green bean casserole is a Thanksgiving staple, with an estimated 20 million-plus American households expected to serve it this year, according to Campbell’s.

Dorcas Reilly

Throughout her life, Reilly, a culinary trail blazer during a time when women were often on the sidelines in corporate America, remained astonished at the success of a dish based on green beans and cream of mushroom soup, one referred to by Campbell’s as “the mother of all comfort foods.”

“We all thought this is very nice, etc., and then when we got the feelings of the consumer, we were really kinda pleasantly shocked,” she said in a Campbell’s promotional video for the dish. “I’m very proud of this, and I was shocked when I realized how popular it had become.”

Reilly, an influential innovator of beloved comfort food in the U.S., died on Oct. 15 of Alzheimer’s disease in Camden. She was 92. A visitation and celebration of her life will be held on Saturday in Haddonfield, N.J.

Rest in Peace Mrs. Reilly! We will all remember you this Thanksgiving as we take a big scoop of our favorite comfort food, We’re all thankful for you and your recipe!

Dorcas Reilly

photo credit:

*Source: The Washington Post

What’s the takeaway that we can learn from Mrs. Reilly?

1. Sometimes we can think we are just “doing our jobs” but to other people, it may make a big difference. This lady invented a recipe that was just a day on the job… but 60 years later, here we are, blogging about her and being inspired by her. Her recipe has been on a kabillion soup cans since 1960, everyone knows what “green bean casserole” is.

2. She was a team leader, and when talking about the challenge, she never took all the credit. She always said “we” when speaking of herself and her team. The TEAM was important, each member of the team contributed something, and she never lost sight of that. Although Reilly cooked up the recipe, she does not take sole credit for it.

“It was about the team working together,” she said. “I didn’t do it; we did it.”

3. Sometimes things start out small, and we never know how they may end up… I’m sure when Dorcas Reilly went to work that day, she never imagined her recipe invention would be called the “mother of all comfort foods” … She didn’t give up though, she stood by her work, and her work spoke for itself in the end~ gaining fame across the country. Keep your chins up, and keep on doing the “little things” that you may think are unimportant… you never know how they may end up in the long run. Dorcas Reilly was quoted as saying, “It was such a rewarding feeling when your recipe was published,” she added. Further stressing the importance of sticking with it, and following your ideas through to fruition.

4. She was a pioneer of sorts, in post World War II America, more than most women became homemakers. Dorcas pursued a college education. In the early 1950s, there was a cultural shift; a post-war wave of consumption was prevalent in America. Marketing departments of major companies were pushing products heavily, because Americans were spending more and the economy was flourishing. Campbell’s in particular published their signature recipes (all whipped up in the test kitchen) in ads, newspapers, magazines, and on their product labels. When Reilly’s green bean casserole recipe appeared in print, it took off. Some say its popularity was initially due to the fact that it used ingredients that were typically found in American pantries; others say that the flavor alone skyrocketed it to fame. Regardless, it was a dish that was being prepared in countless American homes.

5. The Campbell’s website boasts new, more modern spin offs of the recipe, and even more current versions but there is never quite anything like the original, is there?  This reminds us to appreciate the original, to respect the creator of the REAL recipe, and give credit where credit is due. This reminds me of handmade vs handmade knock-offs… what once was a totally handmade market (not mentioning any names) that is flooded with mass -produced goods masquerading as handmade… being produced in overseas factories and imported. Nothing is as quality as handmade, nothing can capture the attention to detail that a handmade garment, sign, purse or home decor item can. One person working on one piece at a time, paying attention to the details, giving the customer one on one service and customer care.