29 November 2009

Green bean casserole

Yes, it’s the holiday season—and that means it’s time for tables across the country to start buckling under the weight of all sorts of foods that we wouldn’t even think of making any other time of the year. (Twenty-three pound turkey, anyone?) One of these dishes is a creation of the Campbell Soup Company: green bean casserole.

Green bean casserole was (according to its Wikipedia article—who knew there were Wikipedia articles for pseudo-homemade foods?) invented in 1955. Yes, the 1950s, that low point in the history of food, back when soy sauce was considered an exotic ingredient to be used carefully by the half-teaspoonful. We’re going to stick with the green bean casserole here, but anyone interested in just how bad American cuisine got mid-twentieth century should visit James Lileks’ Gallery of Regrettable Food. (If you click on the “Knox Gelatin” link you get pictures from a cookbook that we actually own a copy of. Trust us, the pictures on that site don’t do justice to how bad the food looks in that book.)

Anyway. There are a number of different recipes for green bean casserole, so we went with the one we could find: the one currently on the back of cans of French’s French Fried Onions (original flavor). We don’t know if this is the original recipe, but we figure it’s probably close, since French’s is a Campbell’s brand. So the first thing we did was to collect the ingredients. We doubled the recipe, but they’re listed here as a single recipe, just like in the original.
  • 1 10¾ ounce can cream of mushroom soup (the recipe specified Campbell’s brand, but we went with a store brand—we know it’s unAmerican of us, but we figure gloppy mushroom soups are gloppy mushroom soups no matter who makes them)
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1⅓ cups French fried onions (the recipe specifies French’s, which we did in fact use)
  • 2 14½ ounce cans green beans, drained or 2 9 ounce packages frozen cut green beans, thawed (we went with the canned beans, both because we had them and because the relative freshness of frozen vegetables just seems somehow wrong for a recipe like this)

By the way—cream of mushroom soup is a “good source of fiber”? Wow—such a healthy food! I guess we should all be chugging the stuff straight from the can! Daily, if not more often.

Mix soup and milk…

So we dutifully proceeded to follow the directions.

Before mixing. You know it’s gonna be good when it starts out looking like this.

Here’s the soup and milk all mixed together.

Incidentally, we got a large (26 ounce) can of cream of mushroom soup rather than two regular-size (10¾ ounce) cans, and we ended up just pouring the whole can in rather than measuring out 21½ ounces. (We suspect that it didn’t really change the final results, though.)

…then add pepper, beans, and ⅔ cup onions in 1½ quart casserole.

Here’s everything dumped on top of the soup mixture. (There were so many green beans that you can’t really see the onions and the bizarrely tiny amount of pepper underneath them.)

Here’s everything mixed together and poured into a 9×13 baking dish. (It wouldn’t fit in a 1½ quart casserole, since we were doubling it.)

By the way, have you noticed the jack-o-lantern tablecloth? Yes, it’s a Halloween pattern even though we were making this Thanksgiving morning—that’s just the way we roll around here.

Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes or until hot.

We went ahead and baked it for the full 30 minutes, even though we couldn’t figure out why that long of a cooking time would be necessary.


We like simple directions.

Here it is after baking but before stirring, so you can see how dry the top got. (The dryness was only a very thin layer, though, so it didn’t cause any difficulty.) It’s worth noting that the French fried onions had clearly soaked up a good bit of the liquid—the sauce wasn’t what we’d call thick, precisely, but it was definitely thicker than when it got put in the oven.

Top with remaining onions.

For those of you keeping score at home, this means that half of the onions get mixed with everything else, half go on top.

Bake 5 minutes.

Here’s the final product, right as it came out of the oven. Notice that there’s no real additional browning of the onions on top; also, you can’t see it, but it still wasn’t terribly thick. However, it thickened upon standing a while as everything else got set up for Thanksgiving dinner.

Also, the recipe is over at this point—in particular, it gives no hint whether to serve it hot or room temperature (our recommendation: hot), or whether to let it stand to thicken a bit (our recommendation: yes, and rewarm it in the oven for ten minutes or so afterward if needed so it’s hot).

And now: How’d it taste?

This really is, to my mind at least, the pinnacle of 1950s-style comfort food. This isn't necessarily a compliment, but it isn’t intended as a complete slam, either—the recipe may only be 54 years old, but it’s earned a place in tradition, unlike a number of other recipes from 1955.

On the whole, it’s reasonably flavorful (though a bit too much of the flavor might best be summed up as, simply, salt), but the texture is pretty uninspiring—this is food for people who either have no teeth or expect not to have any by next Wednesday. Like i said, though, that’s part of the tradition of the thing.

One clear positive is its simplicity. Up to the moment of putting the mixture in the oven the first time, this is a recipe kids of pretty much any age can help with—there’s little to nothing to mess up, and unless you use canned beans like we did there aren’t even any sharp edges anywhere nearby. So from that point of view, it’s a decent one to make as a family project.

At a more specific level, opinions were heavily divided in our family on whether this recipe was worthwhile or not.

To begin with, the two-year-old and four-year-old refused to try it—we don’t know if it was the look of it or if it was the competition from all the other foods on the table. From everyone else:

Flavor: Our ten-year-old loved it, and i suspect she would happily subsist on green bean casserole and nothing else if she had to. Our eight-year-old, on the other hand, loathed it and would rather starve than poison herself with the stuff. Both parents like it, though it doesn’t get anything near the sort of adoration the ten-year-old offers.

Texture: This is pretty much the same thing—the ten-year-old thought it was marvelous, the eight-year-old thought it was revolting, and the parents were vaguely positive about it, though i’m considerably more lukewarm about its texture than its taste.

Ease and fun: Due to the pressures of having to time this with other foods, there was no fun involved with this bit of cooking. It certainly was easy, though, and it would probably be fun if it wasn’t done on such a high-pressure day. Of course, does anyone ever make this stuff on a non-high-pressure food day? Nope, that’s what i thought. In any event, it takes less time to whip everything together than it does to preheat the oven, so it’s got that going for it.

Black magic: I can’t get the rest of the family to stop with the mocking laughter for long enough to get their input on this, but i suspect that the Campbell Soup Company made some sort of deal with the Devil at a crossroads somewhere in the vacant lots surrounding 1 Campbell Place, Camden, New Jersey. How else to explain that green bean casserole tastes so good on just one day of the year (Thanksgiving), but is so completely inedible every other day? Think about it—magic’s the only logical explanation!


Did we like it? Mixed reviews.

Will we make it again? Next Thanksgiving, like clockwork. Not until then, though.

Overall grade: Meh.


  1. Green bean casserole is evil.

    White on black is hard to read.

  2. We tried making this for our "Thanksgiving" dinner this year without French fried onions which, of course, are nonexistent in Romania. I learned that those onions really do soak up a lot of the liquid, as you mentioned in this post. I actually preferred the taste without the onions - I just don't like the soggy texture the ones in the casserole take on.

    Jim agrees with Sadra. He'd eat it every day, happily.