When Dorcas Bates Reilly, a supervisor in the Campbell Soup Co. test kitchen in Camden, came up with a green bean casserole in 1955, she had no idea it would make culinary history.
She wanted to create a quick dish combining two ingredients that most American families had on hand at that time – green beans and Campbell's cream of mushroom soup.
The Green Bean Bake, as it was first called, was tweaked by Mrs. Reilly and her team of recipe inventors into a popular comfort food. And more than a half-century later, the casserole, with its topping of crispy French-fried onions, is expected to appear on the Thanksgiving tables of more than 20 million Americans this year, the soup company said in a tribute to the inventor.
Mrs. Reilly, 92, of Haddonfield, a recipe developer in the home economics department at Campbell starting in 1949 and the mother of two, died Monday, Oct. 15, of Alzheimer's disease at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden.
"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Dorcas Reilly, the creator of one of the most beloved American recipes, the Green Bean Casserole," the company said. "Dorcas was an incredible woman whose legacy will live on for years to come. She will be missed by her Campbell colleagues and all those who were impacted by her creativity and generous spirit."
Her son, Thomas B. Reilly, said his mother's achievement as inventor of the casserole didn't resonate until 2002, when Campbell donated the original recipe card to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, where Thomas A. Edison's light bulb is also displayed.
On Nov. 19, 2002, Mrs. Reilly was recognized as the inventor of the recipe but not inducted into the hall of fame, according to Nicky Thomson, a Campbell spokeswoman. Mrs. Reilly's husband, Thomas H. Reilly, accompanied her to the event, and Campbell officials also attended. At the time, the hall of fame museum was in Akron, Ohio. It is now in Alexandria, Va.
"She was extremely humble about the whole thing," her son said. "As a kid growing up, we never really discussed it. It didn't become a talking point until the recipe was put in the Inventors Hall of Fame.
"I think she was surprised," he said. "I think she was even more surprised at how much of a big deal it became. She was not a flashy person. She didn't bask in the limelight. She just went in and did her job every day, like most blue-collar people."
She also came up with a tomato soup cake, a sloppy Joe dish made with tomato soup, and a tuna noodle casserole. "But she was best known as grandmother of the Green Bean Casserole," her husband said.
In 1959, Mrs. Reilly and her husband married. She left the company in 1961 to become a mother, but returned in 1981 as the manager of Campbell's Kitchen, which develops and tests recipes using Campbell products. She remained there until retiring in 1988.
Born to Dorcas Lillian Webb and Frederick Bates in Woodbury, Mrs. Reilly grew up in Glassboro and Camden. She graduated from Camden High School in 1944 and earned a bachelor's degree in home economics from the Drexel Institute of Technology, now Drexel University, in June 1947.
Campbell's started putting Mrs. Reilly's recipe on the labels of the firm's cream of mushroom soup in 1960, and the cans flew off the shelves, especially around holiday time, Drexel said in a 2017 tribute on its website.
The Green Bean Casserole evolved into a classic because the original recipe could be tailored by cooks to their families' likes and dislikes.
"My niece loves to top off the casserole with extra French-fried onions," Cindy Ayers, former head of Campbell's Kitchen, told a Drexel interviewer. "Each family has its own way of preparing Green Bean Casserole, and it's the personal touch that makes the dish a lasting holiday tradition."
The ingredients include cream of mushroom soup, four cups of cut cooked green beans, ½ cup milk, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, a dash black pepper, and a can of French-fried onions. Preparation time for mixing the ingredients is 10 minutes, and baking time at 350 degrees in a greased casserole dish is 30.
Detailed instructions on how to make the casserole can be found here.
Mrs. Reilly was a member of Alpha Sigma Alpha Sorority, Order of the Eastern Star, and Daughters of the American Revolution, and was active in numerous choral and theatrical groups.
In addition to her husband and son, she is survived by a daughter, Dorcas R. Tarbell; four grandchildren; a great-granddaughter; and many nieces and nephews.
A visitation from 10 to 10:45 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, will be followed by an 11 a.m. celebration of life at Haddonfield First Presbyterian Church, 20 Kings Highway E., Haddonfield, N.J. 08033. Burial is private.