Almost 60 years after Dorcas Reilly and her team at the Campbell’s Test Kitchen created the iconic green bean casserole, Drexel University honored her with an annual scholarship and award.
"Surprised" is how Haddonfield resident Reilly describes the moment when she heard her alma mater, Drexel University, named an annual $1,000 scholarship in her honor as well as honored her with the inaugural Cultural Contribution Award on Jan. 30.
Long before Martha Stewart or Rachael Ray became domestic divas, Reilly began a career in home economics that was considered revolutionary for a woman in 1947. After graduating from the home economics program at Drexel, Reilly became an instructor with Philadelphia Electric. She taught homemakers how to cook on that new invention, the electric range.
From there, she moved on to the Test Kitchen at Campbell Soup in downtown Camden, where she worked creating recipes from Campbell’s products. Part of her job included sending press releases with recipes to cooking magazines and preparing food for photo shoots.
Preparing food for live television
In 1951, Reilly’s job required her to travel to New York City each week to prepare food for live commercials on a fairly new medium called television. “It was really a lot of fun. Each Thursday, I would travel to New York to meet with the ad agency. They would tell me what I was to prepare for the live commercial breaks during The Henry Aldrich Show in Studio 3B on NBC. I did everything from shopping for what I needed to preparing the food on the set. Campbell’s sponsored the show from 1951 until it ended in May 1953,” Reilly recalled.
Because the show was live, Reilly had to prepare dishes in the next room in a makeshift kitchen on two heating elements and a utility sink. When it was time for the commercial to air, she would bring the hot dish over to the table for executives from Campbell’s to discuss the dish.
“Most times there wasn’t time for me to get out of the camera shot so I would hide until the table until the commercial was over,” Reilly said.
That part of her career happened before she led the team that created the green bean casserole in 1955.
“We had fun. I really enjoyed what I did,” Reilly said.
But Reilly doesn't see herself as an icon in the world of home economics. Mild mannered and modest, one would never know this mother and grandmother made such an indelible mark on culinary history.
Coming out of retirement
Dubbed the "Grandmother of the Green Bean Casserole," Reilly came out of retirement to help Campbell’s celebrate the 40th anniversary of the green bean casserole. She was interviewed on radio shows throughout the United States. Countless newspapers interviewed her and in 2002, the National Inventor's Hall of Fame invited her to donate the original copy of the recipe to the museum.
In 2008, Alpha Sigma Alpha, Reilly’s sorority at Drexel, honored her with the Recognition of Eminence Award. In addition to the award, Alpha Sigma Alpha created the largest green bean casserole at that time. The casserole was donated to area food banks.
When Reilly attended Drexel, home economics was the major most women chose. Today the home economics program is known as Goodwin’s Hospitality Management Culinary Arts and Food Science Program. When members of Drexel’s community learned about the link between the inventor of the green bean casserole and Drexel, the decision was made to create a scholarship in Reilly’s honor and give her the Cultural Contribution Award.
The special luncheon to honor Reilley was held on the Drexel campus at the Academic Bistro. Current hospitality management, culinary arts and food science majors flocked around Reilly for photo ops. Reilly was hailed as the legendary inventor of recipes found on the back of Campbell’s soup cans. Centerpieces were made with Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup cans filled with flowers.
And yes, if you were wondering, the students did serve green bean casserole at the luncheon.