Although the modern cook may tend towards the likes of Brussels sprouts with bacon or glazed carrots for the big Thanksgiving spread, green bean casserole has long been the holiday's iconic side. Personally, I have never been among this casserole's (many) supporters. The basic idea is nice enough, but soggy, defrosted green beans bathed in insipid mushroom soup concentrate? All the fried onions in the world couldn't improve that combination, as far as I'm concerned. But as the holiday draws near, I couldn't help but wonder if a from-scratch approach to the dish would lend it some much-needed verve. And what would my testers have to say on the issue?
The Contenders: French's Green Bean Casserole vs. Alton Brown's Best Ever Green Bean Casserole
It might not surprise you to hear that a dish made with Campbell's soup and French's onions was, in fact, invented in a corporate test kitchen. The now-classic recipe was conceived by Dorcas Reilly in 1955, while she was working in the Home Economics department of Campbell's Soup Company. Her goal was to create a dish that was nutritious, affordable, and easy to create from staples that housewives would already have on hand. Almost six decades later, the dish is still going strong as a classic Thanksgiving side.
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Relative Costs: Making green bean casserole from scratch is about half again more expensive than the pre-packaged classic. The French's version cost $7 in supplies, whereas I used about $10 worth of ingredients to make it from scratch.
Relative Healthfulness: Advantage homemade. French's French Fried Onions are fried in palm oil, and Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup contains modified food starch and MSG. Not only does the from-scratch version contain fresh green beans and mushrooms, but it includes nothing more nefarious than a cup of half & half.Time Commitment: It took me less than five minutes to prepare French's casserole, plus 35 minutes of baking time. The from-scratch casserole took me a little over an hour of active time, plus 15 minutes in the oven.
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Leftovers Potential: Both the homemade and the store-bought versions will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
What The Testers: None of the adults had any trouble distinguishing the from-scratch casserole from French's recipe. The Health Nut: Homemade. "I love all the different textures and flavors in the homemade. And green beans really have the starring role." The Foodie: Homemade. "The French's is just so bland and mushy. This is the green bean casserole I've spent my whole life hating." The Kid: No preference. "I really hate green beans." The Dude: Store-bought. "I know that I should like the homemade version, that maybe it's objectively better, but the store-bought one says Thanksgiving to me."
The Verdict: Make it. Pretty much the only thing that French's green bean casserole has going for it is that it's the Thanksgiving side dish of record for so many Americans. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, but it might be time to create some new memories around an updated version of the dish. Investing just an hour will lead to an improved green bean casserole that's worthy of its place on the Thanksgiving table.