Ruth Siems AND Dorcas Reilly

Ruth Siems

(1931-2005)

DJ Name: Rockin’ Ruth

Dorcas Reilly

(1926-2018)

DJ Name: DJ Dorky Dorcas

‘Tis the season for stuffing yourself until you gotta go change into your comfy elastic band pants, so it feels appropriate to learn about two women who gave us two of the best Thanksgiving side dishes. If you don’t believe these are two of the best side dishes, then you are seriously deranged and lack taste buds. It’s a fact. Also, because Thanksgiving has a bit of a shady history (the European colonizers, y’know, taking advantage of Indigenous groups’ generosity only to then massacre nearly the entire population, etc.), we think it’s best to focus on the absolute bomb meal you’re gonna consume next week that you’ll hopefully prepare with loved ones. 

But before you get to cookin’, let’s learn a bit about Ruth Siems, an inventor of Stove Top stuffing, and Dorcas Reilly, the inventor of green bean casserole. While Ruth shredded bits of bread for ample moistening, and while Dorcas chopped the tips off her beans, they shuffled up these songs to complement the beats of their chopping knives. And, seriously, if you don’t know the darker aspects of European colonization of the Americas, please pick up a copy of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and read that over your long weekend.

Ruth Miriam Siems was born in Evansville, Indiana, on February 20, 1931. She had two sisters, Suzanne and Rosemary, and a brother, David. She graduated from Bosse High School, whose Wikipedia’s section on “notable alumni” doesn’t even include her (!!) before attending Purdue University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in home economics in 1953. After graduation, she took a job at the General Foods (what’s now Kraft) plant in Evansville, where she helped produce flour and cake mixes. In other words, she put the “fun” in funfetti. Not long after she took the job, she was relocated to the company’s technical center in Tarrytown, New York.

She spent 30 years working on General Foods’ goodies, and during that time she and other employees were tasked with developing a stuffing concoction that could be marketed to the masses. In the 1950s, convenience foods were all the rage. Americans who’d survived a world war or two, plus a massive economic depression, found solace in the suburbs. The nuclear family became the American ideal, and while men went into the office, women took care of the kids and the home. To aid this secluded and cozy lil’ lifestyle, microwaves and remote controls for the TV became widespread household items for the first time. Cheez Wiz was invented in the ‘50s. Diet Rite, the first diet soft drink, was also invented in the ‘50s. The food fads weren’t the healthiest, but General Foods was going to capitalize on this trend, gosh darn it. 

Ruth and four other employees (the rest of whom were dudes. Go Ruth! #TheFutureOfFoodIsFemale) perfected the crumb size — approximately the size of a pencil eraser, don’t you dare make it the size of a thumbtack! — ideal for easy-to-cook stuffing. But for real though, if the bread crumbs are too small, adding liquid to them will make them too soggy, like when you forget about your half eaten bowl of milk-drenched Shredded Wheat in the morning. And if the crumbs are too big, then you’re basically just eating mildly moistened chunks of bread. Can you imagine the embarrassment of placing that garbage on your Thanksgiving dinner table?? I think not. 

Thankfully, the U.S. Patent Office awarded General Foods patent number 3,870,803, in 1975, for its “instant stuffing mix.” That soon became Stove Top, which is available in stores all year round, not just for Thanksgiving, because what if you want stuffing in July? Thanks to Stove Top, now you can indulge in that craving in a matter of minutes any time of year. As an added bonus, you can now whip up a flavorful stuffing dish in just five minutes, and you don’t even have to disembowel your turkey to get that juicy, zesty flavor. 

Ruth retired from General Foods in 1985, and she returned home to Indiana to live out her final two decades in Newburgh. She spent her days collecting antiques and restoring spinning wheels and looms until she passed away in 2005 at age 74 from a heart attack. However, her legacy remains: Each year, Americans consume about 60 million boxes of Stove Top for Thanksgiving, plus another 30 or so boxes during the rest of the year when Emmy and Camille go to the store with a hankering for stuffing.

Also mixing up sugar, spice and everything nice across the Hudson from Ruth in post World War II America was Dorcas Reilly, who miraculously combined green beans with cream of mushroom soup and called it Green Bean Casserole *Chef’s Kiss*. Dorcas Reilly was born on July 22, 1926 in Woodbury, New Jersey, to mother Dorcas Lillian Webb, and father, Frederick Bates. She and her brother, Linwood Tomlinson Bates, grew up in Glassboro and Camden, New Jersey. 

Rumor around the NJ streets was that Dorcas the daughter won the great holiday bake-off every year, so this green bean prodigy experienced success from an early age. OK, maybe not. Dorcas went to Camden High School where she met the sugar to her spice, Thomas H. Reilly. They fell in love the second they locked eyes over the mixer in Home Economics class. It started out with a whisk, how did it end up like this? It was only a whisk (of a batter), it was only a whisk (oops, got a little carried away there). OK, so we’re not sure if they actually met as partners in Home Economics class nor are we sure that they instantly fell in love as they locked eyes rolling pie crust. But like a cute idea, right? 

What we do know is that Thomas fell in love with Dorcas in the Fall of 1940 (ah, romance), but it took a while for the two to declare the relationship. Thomas served in both World War II and the Korean War after graduating from Camden High, and Dorcas went on to pursue her education at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She enrolled in the Home Economics program and graduated with her BS (bachelor’s of superior kitchen management) in 1947. After receiving her degree, Dorcas went on to work for Campbell’s test kitchen in her hometown of Camden. 

When the time was eventually right, Thomas and Dorcas married in 1959 and settled in Haddonfield, NJ where Tommy became a high school English teacher. The couple had a boy and a girl, and we’ll give you one guess as to what they named their kids. You got that right! Another Dorcas and another Thomas were welcomed to the world! Historic Shuffle Dorcas aka inventor of green bean casserole had a delectable taste in food and a desire to play around with recipes in the kitchen because she apparently came from a family of cooks. According to her hubby Thomas, she would come home from work and still want to cook even though she had just spent her whole day in a test kitchen. The woman was constantly riding the bus to Flavortown.  

Dorcas was one of the first full-time members of Campbell’s Home Economics department. During this time that many women were at home in the kitchen, Dorcas defied the norm by embarking on a career. In the test kitchen, she worked with her colleagues to brainstorm recipes that used Campbell’s products so that people could get more delicious bang for their buck by combining Campbell’s products — therefore bring more dolla dolla bills to Campbell’s as well. They hosted blind taste tests, rated recipes on a scale of one to ten, adjusted the ingredients if needed and then submitted them to the chief Campbell’s in charge at headquarters (sounds like a dream job. Sampling food all day? Count us in). 

One fateful day in 1955, Dorcas, who was a supervisor, decided that she wanted to create a dish that combined foods of different textures as well as flavors. She picked up a can of cream of mushroom soup to use as the base and added some green beans to it because why not. Also, they were a popular vegetable many people had in their homes. Then to top it off, she added the crème de la crème that was the crunchy lil’ onions. After that, she was bestowed with the title “Green Bean Casserole Queen” and the rest is history. Recipes created and approved by Campbell’s HQ were printed in magazines, ads, newspapers and on product labels. This post-WWII America was a consumer hub, and marketing departments at companies like Campbell’s and General Foods were pushing their products heavily (any Mad Men fans? We’re serving you Don Draper vibes). 

When the green bean casserole recipe hit cans and ads, it became incredibly popular because it used ingredients that were typically found in American pantries, also it was delicious. Convenience cooking was all the rage, and Dorcas gave the people what they wanted. Being the #humble lady she was, Dorcas never took sole credit for the recipe because she said that the teamwork of the test kitchen team made her dream work. More than 20 million American homes serve green bean casserole during Thanksgiving every year. And, they all have Dorcas to thank for that during this season of gratitude. #blessed

Dorcas Reilly left Campbell’s in 1961 to become a stay-at-home mama and raise her children, but years later returned to Campbell’s as a Manager, which was the position she held until she retired in 1988. In 2002, Campbell’s donated the OG recipe card for the green bean casserole that Dorcas created to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Along the lines of her legacy, Drexel also announced the Dorcas Reilly Scholarship, which awards $1,000 annually to a student who displays excellence in creativity and exemplary behavior in the Hospitality and Culinary Program. Dorcas passed away at the age of 92 on October 15, 2018. Until the end of her days, she continued to whip up recipes in the kitchen and lived by the motto, “Food should be fun. Food should be happy.” 

We here at Historic Shuffle have over served you this week in true Thanksgiving style with plate loads of fun food facts with sassy sides of history. We hope you enjoyed this Thanksgiving edition of Historic Shuffle, and we’ll be back after the holiday with more tunes and narratives for your history-loving souls. Happy Thanksgiving to all! May it leave you filled with Stove Top stuffing and green bean casserole. And, as you pack your plates and raise your glasses, make sure to honor Ruth and Dorcas, our two favorite female inventors. 

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