I know that I speak for many of my faithful readers in lamenting the passing, on October 15, 2018, of Dorcas Reilly, creator of the classic green bean casserole. Her passing was not expected. She was only 92.
Dorcas was a long-time employee of the Campbell Soup Company. She worked in their home economics department. Her famous recipe contains only six ingredients: (1) one can of Campbell Cream of Mushroom Soup (ya’ think?), (2) cooked green beans, (3) milk, (4) soy sauce, (5) black pepper and the finishing piece-of-resistance, (6) crunchy fried onions on top. Pop this puppy in the oven for a few minutes and violà (which is slightly larger than a violin), a Thanksgiving Day fav. In her honor, the Clown will prepare this dish come Thanksgiving, 2018, along with an estimated 20 million other U.S. households. The seasonal run on Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup is the stuff of legend among grocers nationwide.
“It was convenience with a touch of glamor,” according to culinary historian, Laura Shapiro.
One supposes that it was the crunchy onions and soy sauce that gave the dish “glamor”. Ms. Shapiro’s observation begs the question, however: Who knew that there was such a thing as a ‘culinary historian’?
Dorcas also invented the tuna-noodle casserole but it never achieved glamorous status using her recipe.
The sad news about Dorcas set the Clown to thinking of others who have crossed the River Styx before their culinary inventions could receive their rightful place in the pantheon of famous American classic dishes.
There is Evelyn Pootie of Floyd’s Knobs, Indiana, who passed in 1988. Evelyn was the one who made the tuna-noodle casserole glamorous by thinking to add crumbled potato chips across the top. Brilliant!
In the category of making celery sticks classic and glamorous was Nadine Bonehick of Pasadena, California who, in a flash of insight, added a filler of peanut butter into the celery’s distinctive swale. Nadine died in 1933 without proper recognition. Sad!
Making lime Jell-O glamorous was a tough one. However, Henrietta Hardax of Sheboygan, Wisconsin had the idea of putting chunks of canned pears into the Jell-O mold to provide visual interest and a taste sensation that millions of Americans have enjoyed since her creation debuted in 1943. Henrietta went to her great reward in 1956 without the fame such an inventive person deserves.
The Clown’s own mother, Elizabeth “Betty” Clown of Newton, Kansas (1915-2000) deserves a spot in the American Classic Food Hall of Fame for “Betty’s Goulash”. Unlike Hungarian Goulash, the exact ingredients of Betty’s Goulash varied, depending on what left-overs and canned goods were available at the time. The only constant was elbow macaroni. This makes any accurate replication of the dish nearly impossible, which, in the Clown’s opinion, is a good thing. Betty’s Goulash was at the heart of several ugly scenes around the familial supper table throughout the Clown’s formative years.
The sole male who comes to mind in creating a culinary American classic is Dwight Netbecker, III, of Tulsa, Oklahoma. On a hot summer day in 1950 while taking a well-deserved break from mowing a lawn, the teenaged Dwight decided to dump his remaining salted peanuts into his partially drunk Dr. Pepper. Well, we all know how this combination spread like wildfire, especially among the teen set. This classic’s primary attraction was that it required no cooking, a skill that young Dwight hadn’t yet cultivated. The irony is that Dwight choked to death on a peanut the following summer while enjoying his own concoction.
The Clown’s current wife is intent on creating an American classic Thanksgiving dish using only simple and healthy ingredients in her farm-to-table effort. To date, her kale, cabbage, broccolini and Brussel sprouts casserole, using Campbell’s Cream of Split Pea Soup and a dash of fish sauce and crispy fried corn silks for glamour, hasn’t caught on. She is perplexed that after repeated inclusion in our holiday feasts, no one has asked for the recipe. Indeed, as she points out, it’s healthy, unusually green and has an aroma and flavor all its own. What’s not to love?
Observoid of the Day: There is a direct positive correlation between calorie count and flavor.