This holiday favorite was created in 1955 by a home economist working in the Campbell Soup Company test kitchen.
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green bean casserole
Credit: MARTYNA SZCZESNA

When dreaming up your Thanksgiving dinner menu, there is one dish you likely can't imagine your meal without: Green bean casserole. The quintessential side has joined the ranks of turkey day mainstays, like cranberry sauce and stuffing, solidifying itself as a holiday favorite. But beyond being easy to make (you need little more than green beans, mushrooms, and shallots), have you ever wondered why green bean casserole has become a Thanksgiving tradition? Believe it or not, there's a historical reason we eat the dish during the harvest season.

How Green Bean Casserole Was Created

In the early to mid-20th century, cooking schools and cookbook authors encouraged the serving of red or green foods for Christmas. It was the heyday of maraschino cherries and lurid Jell-O molds. In 1955, a new green classic was created at the Campbell Soup Company: Green bean casserole. Despite this fact, green beans weren't actually the initial inspiration behind the dish at all. The casserole was invented when Dorcas Reilly, a home economist at the company's test kitchen in Camden, N.J., was asked to create a dish utilizing condensed cream of mushroom soup.

After a few initial experiments (including rolled ham and celery salt), Reilly decided to try green beans—a staple in many American homes at the time. Thus the final casserole, called the Green Bean Bake, was created. The original recipe called for six ingredients, including cream of mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions.

How It Became a Holiday Staple

Green bean casserole was considered a perfect dish for holiday entertaining because it was simple, inexpensive, and could easily be made ahead of time. It became known as a "jiffy casserole" because it went from one bowl to one pan. "Casseroles bound with white sauces became especially prevalent during the Depression as a way of stretching ingredients," says Cathy Kaufman, president of the Culinary Historians of New York. "Luxurious versions are colonial, but it does seem that the convenience of frozen green beans brought this recipe to the forefront in that age of convenience cookery."

Still a Thanksgiving Favorite

Campbell's estimates that 30 percent of the cream of mushroom soup sold in the United States today still goes into making this nostalgic, retro casserole. Although the classic recipe is considered sacrosanct by many families and has often appeared on soup can labels since 1963, Campbell's has created almost a dozen modern variations, including one with Dijon mustard and a Green Bean Casserole Italiano.

A copy of the original recipe, which Reilly wrote on an 8-by-11-inch card, was donated to the archives of the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Ohio on November 19, 2002. The card was followed by a Thanksgiving meal featuring the casserole.

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