The genious of Dorcas Reilly: More than 100 million Americans will have her dish on the table this Thanksgiving.

This is my first re-post, but it is so seasonally appropriate.

It also came to mind because some relatives I love dearly asked if I could make “the” green bean casserole.

Wait. I don’t do that.

Fortunately, I have wriggled my way into other responsibilities, but I know I am clearly in the minority:

Stock Tips:  Buy Luby’s.  Buy Campbell’s. (from May 2010)

If Luby’s stockholders read the Taste section of the San Antonio Express-News, I thought, NYSE: LUB will tumble dramatically on Monday.

A reader wrote in to the San Antonio Express-News requesting an “old” Luby’s recipe for eggplant casserole.  To the credit of the “new” Luby’s, which is promoting “healthy sensations,” the manager of an area Luby’s said she could not find the recipe.

The Express’ Karen Haram dug up the recipe from a 1994 column.  The ingredients seem more vintage than that.  In addition to eggplant, the casserole includes diced onion, peppers and celery.  Fine so far.  But the add-ins and add-ons include a can of cream-style corn, a can of cream of mushroom soup, bacon bits, two cups of crumbled cornbread and a cup of, believe it or not, shredded American cheese.  Results:  Extremely well-disguised eggplant with the capability of single-handedly supplying more than half of your sodium intake for the day.

Having not purchased a can of mushroom soup for at least 25 years, I thought nobody was cooking this way any longer.  But I am dead wrong.  My cooking evidently is out of step with the majority of America.

Dorcas Reilly gets a lot of the credit (blame?).  According to Rod Taylor in a 2003 article for Promo Magazine:

Reilly was the midwife, as it were, who gave birth 48 years ago to the mother of all comfort foods: “Campbell Soup’s Green Bean Casserole.”

The now 77-year-old Reilly was in charge of the Campbell Soup Co. test kitchen in 1955 when the recipe was created.  “My initial inspiration for the Green Bean Casserole was really quite simple,” Reilly notes.  “I wanted to create a quick and easy recipe around two things most Americans always had on hand in the 1950s: green beans and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup….”

Campbell estimates that 40% of its annual sales of Cream of Mushroom Soup end up in this recipe, which isn’t too surprising when you consider the company also estimates that 1.5 million cans of Campbell’s soup are used as an ingredient to prepare dinner every day….  Although consumers use the recipe year-round in their cooking, Thanksgiving represents the pinnacle of usage with an estimated 20% to 30% of all US households making the casserole for their holiday feast.

Run the numbers on that one and you’ll discover we’re talking 17.6 million homes on the low end.  Figure that one casserole feeds six, and you’re reaching an estimated 105.6 million Americans in one meal, well over a third of the total population, and that’s on the low side as an estimate….  Consider this:  their Cream of Mushroom soup ranks as one of the six fastest moving items in the entire dry grocery category.

And think about all the additional people who purchased other brands of mushroom soup?

Taylor claims:

Last year Reilly appeared at the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame to donate her original copy of the recipe to the museum.  Her now-yellowed 8 x 11 recipe card takes its place alongside Enrico Fermi’s invention of the first controlled nuclear reactor and Thomas Alva Edison’s two greatest hits:  the lightbulb and the phonograph.

That seems like a big stretch for combining cans of soup and green beans, and I could not verify the story.  The National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum in Alexandria, Virginia, is closed right now as it prepares for the opening of a major exhibition, “Inventive Eats: Incredible Food Innovations,” which does, however, sound like a logical time to spotlight Reilly’s contribution to American cuisine.

But wait, is this the same country in which Julia & Julia grossed $95 million at the box office?  Paraphrasing Julia Child’s husband Paul in the film, I thought her book changed the world.

Campbell Soup Company’s stock continues to rise.

Hey, five recipes on the label of every can, all much easier than any of those through which Julie Powell plowed and blogged her way.

Forget my initial market prediction.  Buy Luby’s stock.  Buy Campbell Soup Company’s stock.

5 thoughts on “The genious of Dorcas Reilly: More than 100 million Americans will have her dish on the table this Thanksgiving.

  1. Sarah says:

    Now don’t blame Luby’s for all that salt. Bob Luby ate at restaurants all over the world, and would go into the kitchen and watch the cook make the dishes he liked. It’s their fault. 😉

    Like

  2. Susan Frost says:

    Hi Gayle,

    I had to chuckle when I read the latest entry in your wonderful blog. This will be the third year that I order our Thanksgiving and Christmas meals through Central Market. The traditional green bean casserole is a must, but it’s been rendered in classier-sounding ingredients:

    “Made with porcini mushrooms, cave aged gruyere topping with house made fried onions.”

    Just heat and serve. None of that messy business of having to open cans of green beans, mushroom soup and fried onion rings!

    Hugs, Susan

    Like

  3. Susan says:

    Wow! That’s a lot of information. But, I still have no confidence that you could come up with “the” green bean cassarole to serve at Thanksgiving dinner that would satisfy everyone. If it makes you feel better, neither could I.

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  4. Susan – Wasted a bunch of time trying to find a good compromise. Although I came across a suggestion using sauteed fresh green beans and Better than Good Bacon Jam (http://www.heb.com/product/Chocolate-Candy-Bars/1500002. Despite the heading on that link, it is all about the jam?). Thought about crushing rosemary-olive oil potato chips with coarsely grated parmigiano reggiano for a crusty brown topping. Didn’t pick up a jar, though, to see if it’s a caloric or health improvement over Dorcas’ version. And you’re right. It would be hard to trick the crowd that trusts no cranberry sauce served without telltale ridges from the can in full view.

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