Green Bean Casserole: The Thanksgiving Staple We Love — Or Loathe : The Salt The classic Midwestern casserole, which turns 60 this year, has come to mean more than just a mashup of processed food. Even those who grew up with it but can't abide it admit: It tastes like home.
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Green Bean Casserole: The Thanksgiving Staple We Love — Or Loathe

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Green Bean Casserole: The Thanksgiving Staple We Love — Or Loathe

Green Bean Casserole: The Thanksgiving Staple We Love — Or Loathe

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

OK, can we talk about green bean casserole for a minute?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

I'd love to, Kelly, go ahead.

MCEVERS: OK. You know, the cream of mushroom soup, those little crunchy onions...

SHAPIRO: The green beans from a frozen bag or a can - yeah, go on.

MCEVERS: So good. OK, whatever you think about it, green bean casserole has been around for a really long time. It's actually celebrating its 60th birthday. And here is Peggy Lowe of member station KCUR.

PEGGY LOWE, BYLINE: Green bean casserole isn't made as much as it's, well, opened. In the name of investigative journalism, I decided to dig up the recipe. I can't remember a time when my mom didn't serve it at Thanksgiving. Mostly, I remember the key ingredient - cream of mushroom soup. The can has been updated with a pulltab. A can of cream of mushroom soup, a can of green beans, a little milk and soy sauce, a dash of pepper and top it off with a can of French fried onions - I love it. But not everyone does. My sister Paula Kellner lives in Nebraska and hosts our family's Thanksgiving every year.

Hey, Paula...

PAULA KELLNER: Yeah.

LOWE: Do you like green bean casserole?

KELLNER: Ick, no, gross.

LOWE: But it will be served at her dinner. Green bean casserole is part of our Thanksgiving ritual, and it's not just us. I dug up another old document. It's entitled...

LUCY LONG: "Green Bean Casserole And Midwestern Identity: A Regional Foodways Aesthetic And Ethos."

LOWE: Lucy Long is a folklorist and research associate at Ohio's Bowling Green University. Long's 2007 paper reported that the dish is part of the Midwest culinary universe that reflects industrial agriculture, the bland food of our European ancestors and, well, a fear of mother nature.

LONG: You can't romanticize nature out here. Nature is not necessarily your friend, particularly if you are a farmer.

LOWE: It may be a Midwestern classic, but green bean casserole is not a native dish. A home economist named Dorcas Reilly created it in New Jersey in 1955 at Campbell's Soup's test kitchen. Campbell's says it will be served in 30 million homes this Thanksgiving - 30 million. Cathy Swanson edits the Betty Crocker cookbook and says there are 30 versions of the casserole online.

CATHY SWANSON: We have ones that use frozen green beans or fresh green beans. We have recipes that are done in the slow cooker. We have a cheesy version and a gluten-free version.

LOWE: Most of the dozen people I ask about green bean casserole laugh at the question. And some say their foodie families would never stand for that plate of processed food. But for many others, it's really just about the idea - green bean casserole is about home.

So back to my investigation. I cooked the casserole for 25 minutes. Let me taste it. Wow, it's creamy and comforting, just a little crunchy. For NPR News, I'm Peggy Lowe.

MCEVERS: And that story comes to us from Harvest Public Media, a public radio reporting project that focuses on agriculture and food production issues.

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