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?
One thought on “Boomers Loved Their Thanksgiving Green Bean Casserole”
I knew nothing of this until grad school roommate made this garbage. The processed onions/onion powder act like a ticking time bomb in my stomach. Moreover, green beans have to be cooked. If that cooks the color of of them, so be it. If green beans are not cooked they are inedible as far as I am concerned. Why one would take perfectly good green beans and mix them in with gut bomb slop instead of merely boiling them on top of the stove is a mystery to me.
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