Almost 60 years after Dorcas Reilly and her team at the Campbell’s Test Kitchen created the iconic green bean casserole, Drexel University lent her name to an annual scholarship and award.
"Surprised" is how Haddonfield resident Reilly described the moment when she heard her alma mater, Drexel University, named an annual $1,000 scholarship in her honor. Reilly was also named the recipient of the inaugural Drexel 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," she said. "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," Reilly recalled. "Campbell’s sponsored the show from 1951 until it ended in May 1953."
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 under 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 in 1995 to help Campbell’s celebrate the 40th anniversary of the dish. She was interviewed on radio shows and countless newspapers throughout the United States. 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, and 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.
A special luncheon for Reilly at the Drexel Academic Bistro gathered current hospitality management, culinary arts and food science majors. They flocked for photo ops. Flower-filled centerpieces were made out of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup cans, on the back of which had been written her casserole recipe.
And yes, if you were wondering, the students served green bean casserole.