I know that many people claim to enjoy green bean casserole, but I can’t imagine why this might be true. I suspect that they are probably the same people who enjoy lobster, even though it was considered tasteless, unappetizing trash food 150 years ago when lobsters were plentiful, easily caught, and exceedingly cheap.
As with many foods, the perception of taste is impacted by a hell of a lot more than just tastebuds.
If you were living 150 years ago, you would almost certainly despise lobster, just like everyone else at that time. even though you may love it today. Servants at the time actually had it written into their contracts that they could only be served lobster twice per week. It was considered insulting to serve lobsters to guests, and it was never served in restaurants.
Even the indigenous people of North America rejected lobster.
Besides, if you need to submerge a food in butter before eating it, how good can it really be?
Which leads me back to green bean casserole, a monstrosity of a dish. Of all the things to feature in a casserole, why choose a barely tolerated side dish? Of all the options of the world, why opt for an utterly benign vegetable?
No one has ever said, “Boy, I really hope they’re serving green beans tonight!”
Green beans are fine. They are one of the few green vegetables that I can tolerate. Depending on how they are cooked, they might even be tasty. But no one has every gotten excited over green beans.
So why green bean casserole?
World War II, or more specifically, the elimination of post-war rationing and the sudden availability of of canned goods.
Green bean casserole was invented by Dorcas Reilly. In 1955, Reilly was working in the home economics department of a Campbell’s test kitchen. She was asked to create a recipe for a feature in the Associated Press, but it needed to be based on newly accessible ingredients like Campbell’s mushroom soup. Reilly and her team created a recipe consisting of just six ingredients:
A can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, milk, soy sauce, black pepper, green beans, and crunchy fried onions.
The dish wasn’t received with any particular acclaim, but when Campbell’s began printing the recipe on its cans of cream of mushroom soup, green bean casserole took off.
Green bean casserole wasn’t an old family recipe passed down from generation to generation. It’s not some culturally or religiously significant dish. It wasn’t invented by a classically trained chef in the kitchen of some restaurant. It’s simply the result of a sudden abundance of canned goods and a behemoth of a corporation sneaking the recipe into households on packaging.
Honestly, of all the things that could be featured in a casserole… green beans?
Why not chicken? Sausage? Macaroni and cheese? Dumplings? Potatoes? Beef? Eggs and bacon? The list of genuinely delicious, universally beloved foods to include in a casserole is endless.
But green beans?
So the next time you’re thinking of making green bean casserole, why not try one of the New York Times “Best Casserole” recipes instead? Dishes like buttery breakfast casserole, baked ziti casserole, macaroni and beef casserole, meat and potato gratin, turkey tetrazzini, shepherds pie, chicken parmesan casserole, meatball and sausage casserole, and even tater tot casserole.
Green bean casserole?
I say no.