Thanksgiving is a holiday of traditions. More so than any other family gathering, this particular holiday demands that you watch the same parade, follow it up with the same football games and make and eat the same foods, no matter where you live. There’s no cooking like home cooking for the holidays.
But now, I live 500 miles away from my family’s home, and I can’t always make it back to Ohio for Thanksgiving. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up on my favorite holiday foods. Nobody’s holiday food is as good as my mom’s. So when I cooked my first Thanksgiving at my Brooklyn apartment, I gave her a ring to see what great family secrets made all my favorite sides so good.
But when I called her to learn what the secret was to her savory stuffing, irresistible green bean casserole and perfect pumpkin pie, I learned a dark truth: All her recipes come right from the packaging. The stuffing? That’s from the Pepperidge Farm bag. The pumpkin pie? It’s not Mom’s, it’s Libby’s. And her green bean casserole? Straight from the Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup can.
My parents are incredible home cooks. They’ve been flambéing in the kitchen, experimenting with new recipes, and baking up a storm every Christmas season for as long as I can remember. So learning that all of my favorite Thanksgiving comfort foods were off the rack (so to speak) was mildly surprising. But, you know, why improve on a classic?
According to a profile in New Jersey Monthly, a home economist named Dorcas Reilly developed the green bean casserole in the Campbell’s kitchen in 1955. She worked in the Campbell’s kitchen during the baby boomer era, when housewives were looking for quick and easy ways to serve dinner to their ever-growing families. So when she was tasked with developing a vegetable side dish using common pantry ingredients, she came up with the green bean casserole (then called a green bean bake) after some trial and error. It consisted of just six common pantry ingredients: a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, a can of french-fried onions, canned green beans, milk, soy sauce and black pepper. The result is a masterful marriage of economy and flavor.
Now I work at a food website, and I come across countless fresh green bean casserole recipes with freshly fried shallots, Madeira wine and garlicky cremini mushrooms. I see new and original stuffing ideas with lovely oysters, caramelized onions and challah bread and earthy mushrooms. But will I be making any of them? Nah. I’ll be over here, making canned green bean casserole and these other wonderful Midwestern Thanksgiving dishes.