A few weeks ago, on October 15, 92-year-old Dorcas Reilly died. Never a household name in her lifetime, Reilly’s fame will live on in a simple and heartwarming recipe she created in 1955. While working in the Campbell’s Soup test kitchen in Camden, New Jersey, she put together the Green Bean Casserole.
You know the dish. It’s right next to the oblong Pyrex casserole of candied yams and marshmallows on the Thanksgiving table. Adjacent to a cylindrical serving of cranberry jelly on a silver salver.
It’s so easy to make, although I’ve never made it. Neither has my friend Shelley. We may have had it once growing up, as I vaguely remember sneaking a fried onion from a can in the cupboards. The dish is unhealthy, according to my mother’s standards. She’s read the labels and determined the fat and sodium contents to be over the limit for vibrant good health. “I made it once, but those fried onions are very bad for you,” Helen said in a text to me this morning.
I clipped the Associated Press obituary from my local paper and contemplated casseroles. I have never established much of a casserole repertoire, although I think women of another era, like Dorcas Reilly, did.
Dorcas Bates was born in Woodbury, New Jersey in 1926. She graduated from Camden (NJ) High School in January, 1944. Her future husband, Thomas Reilly, claims to have fallen in love with her in 1940. Following high school, Dorcas went to the Drexel Institute of Technology (now Drexel University) and received her BS in Home Economics in June, 1947. She went to work at the Campbell’s Soup Company, headquartered in Camden, after graduation. Allegedly, the Green Bean Casserole recipe was created in 1955, one of hundreds of recipes she worked on. The idea was to create something tasty that could be prepared with ingredients most cooks kept on hand. And who doesn’t keep a can of creamed soup at the ready?
According to Wikipedia, Campbell’s created canned cream of mushroom soup in 1934 and it “was widely used as a casserole filler in the Midwest so much that it was sometimes referred to as ‘Lutheran Binder.’” Those militant Lutherans, using a creamy soup to bind casseroles together.
Bates married Reilly in 1959 following his service in World War II and Korea; Mrs. Reilly left Campbell’s in 1961 to raise her family. She would eventually return to the soup manufacturer and retire in 1988.
In 2002, Dorcas Reilly donated her recipe for Green Bean Casserole to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, headquartered in Canton, OH. The Hall of Fame operates a museum in Alexandria, Virginia.
Although not mentioned in the syndicated obituaries, Dorcas Bates Reilly was a member of Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority, whose slogan is “Women of Poise and Purpose.” She was active in chorus and theatrical groups, she was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, and a Daughter of the American Revolution. She was a long-time member of Haddonfield First Presbyterian Church where her funeral was held on Saturday, October 27, 2018.
This is a slice of luscious carrot cake I had at Flux restaurant here in town last week. Did you know you can throw a can of tomato soup into a carrot cake? Jason LaVerdiere doesn’t, but I’m going to head to Flux for a cup of coffee and some cake later today. I know it’s Halloween and I should be digging around in the cupboards for candy corn and Snickers bars, but I want to talk to Jason about green bean casserole and Lutheran binders.
After all, today is also Reformation Day. Maybe Jason can reform Green Bean Casserole into something new.