Boomers Loved Their Thanksgiving Green Bean Casserole

It’s beginning to look a lot like Thanksgiving, and with it come traditions deeply embedded in the memories of boomers from coast to coast. Though celebrations of the holiday date back to Abraham Lincoln’s time, it took until the post-war period — the Boomer Years — for the day to be elevated to the gluttonous food fest we know today. Along with other excesses of the era, many historians attribute these leanings toward the mass national relief at the end of the war as celebrated by a generation that was born before or during the Great Depression. In other words, the parents of boomers had lived without a lot of comforts, then fought a war to hold on to what they had. Consequently, they had much to be grateful for, and were in no mood to scrimp. They helped create a new, modern world and they were going to see to it that their children could take full advantage of it.

Something else was happening at the time that contributed to the super-sizing of Thanksgiving: Technology was offering consumers new, lighter metal cookware and glass baking dishes that became the kitchen tools that moms used to create family traditions. One of these traditions was — and remains for many families — the green bean casserole, which was introduced to boomer families by the Campbell’s Soup Company in 1955.

Casseroles were nothing new, with evidence of various types dating back to the 6th century BC. Like stews, almost every culture had some kind of casserole uniquely its own. Therefore it should surprise no one that a country consisting of immigrants from around the globe would bring those traditions with them. Casseroles differed from stews in that heat was applied to bottom of a cooking vessel for a stew, while casseroles were baked in deep-dish pans in an oven. The basic elements of a casserole are usually a protein (often beef, chicken or tuna fish), a vegetable, and a starchy binder. In addition, in modern casseroles there is often a creamy or cheesy component and something to add a crunch factor.

Enter the green bean casserole. Campbell’s, like practically every other food company at the time, constantly published recipe pamphlets that were distributed through grocery stores, and recipes were printed on the backs of the product packages themselves. A company-created recipe of the Boomer Years is easy to spot by the brand-named products that are listed in the recipe ingredients. So it was that Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup became the central binder in the green bean casserole. Later versions of the recipe were distributed by companies that made the crunchy fried onion rings or sticks that topped the dish, giving their product the brand-name billing in the ingredient list.

The green bean casserole recipe was an immediate success for Campbell’s. Easy to make with limited ingredients, kids could participate in the making of the casserole, thus being a part of the family’s Thanksgiving celebration. So it came to pass that the dawn of a new era was the start of a boomer Thanksgiving tradition. To this day it is revered as a tasty tradition by some, and reviled as a salty mishmash by others.

Mister Boomer’s family had a few Thanksgiving holiday traditions, among them roasted chestnuts in the morning, turkey giblet stuffing and that wonderful plop of cranberry sauce oozing from the can to a waiting dish and sliced at the table, much to the delight of Mister B and his siblings. But green bean casserole was not among the usual side dish fixins for Mister B’s Thanksgiving. The family always had several cans of Campbell’s Soup in the cupboard, and Cream of Mushroom was among them. So Mister Boomer does not know why his family did not adopt the green bean casserole tradition. He recalls either someone bringing one once, or his mother making it once, but that was about it. Mister Boomer’s mother had the knack for cooking the color out of any vegetable, and certainly vegetables in a can already had a gray tinge to start with, so it’s probably for the best.

There are many things that Mister Boomer would consider a must for his Thanksgiving table, but green bean casserole isn’t one of them. Nonetheless, it is of great interest to him that this national tradition was commercially created and disseminated during the Boomer Years. How about it, boomers? Were green bean casseroles part of your families’ Thanksgiving meals? Do you still make one today for your families?

Boomers Have a Cost-Effective Thanksgiving

It’s no secret to boomers and non-boomers alike that the cost of living continues to rise. Boomers, having been around longer, even revel in the fact that they can say, “I remember when…” to recount 10 cent Coca-Colas and 20 cent gallons of gas. Now, from the currently cobwebbed Good News Department, come reports that the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner is actually going down from last year’s high — to just under $50 to feed a party of 10 according to the annual Farm Bureau price survey.

This comes as a surprise to Mister Boomer. After all, on average virtually everything has risen in the past 50 years at a rate of approximately ten times what it was in the 1960s — everything except salaries, that is. The cost of housing, transportation, clothing and more have risen faster than the average weekly pay. Consequently, many boomers, including Mister B, pine for the days when a dollar would just stretch further.

In 1965, the median income in the U.S. was around $7,000, which more than doubled the median income in the 15 years from 1950. It was a boom time for the country, and it helped fuel the entire Boomer Generation. In 1960, the average cost of a Thanksgiving turkey — the biggest cost in the meal — was around 39 cents a pound. That meant a 20-pound turkey cost just under eight dollars. Add the cost of trimmings and the average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner in that decade ran between 20 and 30 dollars. That’s still a bargain when you consider that amounted to no more one third of an average weekly pay, and less than three dollars per person for a Thanksgiving holiday that is centered around the meal.

What boomer Thanksgiving would be complete without a jellied cranberry sauce that is shaped like the can? Today’s cost is between one and two dollars a can, where fifty years ago three or four cans could be purchased for the same dollar. Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer vied for the honor of opening the can of cranberry sauce every year. Mister B in particular enjoyed the slosh-plop as it slid from the can to a plate, ready to be sliced into thick medallions and eaten. It was the 1970s before Mister B was made aware that cranberry sauce could also be purchased with whole berries in a relish-like state. No can shape? Not very festive, now, is it?


In Mister Boomer’s household, generic brands were often purchased over national name brands. Mister B and Brother Boomer would, after taking off the top of the can, use the can opener to puncture the bottom so incoming air could facilitate the plop.

A survey of today’s national supermarkets shows the price of a turkey this year to be hovering around 60 cents a pound. Industry sources are stating that retailers are using the turkey as a loss leader, choosing to make their profit off the trimmings. Unfortunately for retailers, the trimmings have, for the most part, also dropped in price over their highest levels in the early 2000s. On the whole, most vegetables are lower while grains and some dairy are higher.

Boomers, now grandparents in a good many families, have helped shape Thanksgiving to the annual holiday-of-excessive-eating that we enjoy today. As such, regardless of their financial means, they are going to do their best to see that their families enjoy Thanksgiving as much as they did, lower prices or not. Nonetheless, if it really is true that we are spending less of a percentage of our weekly pay on a Thanksgiving meal than we did fifty years ago, then Mister B would have to say there’s one more thing to be thankful for this holiday.

Mister Boomer is thankful for your continued readership, and wishes you your very own can-shaped cranberry sauce this holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!