History lesson on green bean casserole

  • By Judyrae Kruse Herald Columnist
  • Sunday, February 10, 2013 7:59pm
  • Life

Now here’s an interesting bit of food history, plus a recipe, shared by Everett cook Eileen Spitaleri, who tells us, “I found this in an old Saveur magazine — thought you might all enjoy seeing it. Enjoy your column.”

You know that favorite green bean casserole that turns up on tables every holiday season? This is about that. It turns out that the recipe we’ve all eaten when our moms, grams and aunts first made it, and now many of us do, dates way back.

Like a lot of other American casseroles, this one is another of those old Depression-era dishes, often used as a main dish, because it made the best of always available and affordable ingredients. By the end of the Second World War, different takes on this casserole could be found everywhere.

A New York Times recipe from 1947 was made with sliced frankfurters. Another, three years later in the Los Angeles Times, called for a combination of green beans, condensed tomato soup, hamburger and a biscuit topping.

Next, Cecily Brownstone, food editor at The Associated Press, attended a dinner at the home of John Snively, a wealthy citrus farmer in Florida, and his wife, May. That evening, the Snively’s served a replica of the memorable menu served to Iranian royalty, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi and his wife, Queen Soraya. Mrs. Snively had produced a memorable meal of brunswick stew and a delicious green bean casserole made with cream sauce and mushrooms, which the queen apparently loved.

Cecily Brownstone hoped to write an article on the dinner, complete with a recipe for the casserole, so she asked for help from the Campbell’s Soup test kitchens. Shortly thereafter, she had her story and a recipe to go with it, and we all have this now classic recipe.

Over the years, Campbell’s has subtly altered the recipe, which originally debuted as green green bake, but the basics remain essentially unchanged. No one had the vaguest idea it would eventually become such an iconic dish it is now — imagine that.

Now, for a look back to the beginning, this recipe is an adaptation of the one Campbell’s created in the 1950s:

Green bean casserole

3cups chicken stock

1/2ounce dried shiitake mushrooms, stemmed

Kosher salt to taste

2pounds green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces

Canola oil

11/4cups flour

2small yellow onions, thinly sliced

5tablespoons butter, divided

1/3cup heavy cream

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring stock to boil in a small pot. Remove from heat and add mushrooms. Cover; let soften for 20 minutes. Strain, reserve broth. Thinly slice mushrooms and set aside. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil; add beans and cook until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Chill beans in an ice bath; drain and pat dry.

Pour oil into a large pot to a depth of 2 inches. Heat over medium-high heat until oil registers 350 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. Put 1 cup flour into a bowl. Working in batches, toss onions in flour; shake off excess and fry until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and season with salt.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8-inch-by-8-inch casserole with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Melt remaining butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in remaining flour; cook for 1 minute. Pour in reserved broth while whisking; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, whisking occasionally until thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Whisk in cream and combine with beans, half the onions and salt and pepper in a bowl; transfer to casserole. Top with remaining onions; bake until bubbly, about 20 minutes.

The next Forum will appear in Wednesday’s Good Life section.

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