BS home economics '47
A woman whose legacy is known in kitchens across America visited Drexel on January 30. Dorcas Reilly '47, creator of the iconic green bean casserole recipe that appears on the back of Campbell's soup cans, was honored with a special luncheon in the Academic Bistro.
Reilly graduated from what was then Drexel's Home Economics program, known today as Goodwin's Hospitality Management, Culinary Arts, and Food Science program.
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.
One day, Dorcas created the iconic green bean casserole recipe on a whim. She wanted to create a dish that melded different textures and flavors, using Campbell's cream of mushroom soup as the base. She figured green beans were a popular enough vegetable, and she added in a crunchy onion topping to make it appealing to all ages. And with that, a phenomenon was born.
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.
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."
Of her days at Campbell's, Reilly said they were "serious fun" and calls it a "fantastic experience."
"It was such a rewarding feeling when your recipe was published," she added.
Dean William Lynch presented Reilly with the first Drexel University Cultural Contribution Award, and announced the Dorcas Reilly Scholarship, which will award $1,000 annually to a student who displays excellence in creativity and exemplary behavior in the Hospitality and Culinary program. Reilly's husband, Tom Sr., son Tom Jr., and daughter Dorcas were at the luncheon commemorating their mother's legacy.
When asked if her cooking style has changed, Reilly said, "I still do a bit of experimenting at home." She pointed to her husband: "This is my judge."
Her philosophy has remained the same since her time at Campbell's. "Food should be fun. Food should be happy."
Time in the kitchen has been so important to Reilly because cooking centers around family, which is incredibly important to her, and making them happy through food.
"The most important things in life are health and happiness," she said.