Mashed potatoes were always my thing.
My mom cooked a special dinner of my request every year on my birthday, and it always included mashed potatoes (fried chicken, too). Once a week we ate mashed potatoes at home, with peas, because I loved spooning the little globes into the starch while sucking up all the peppercorn gravy. And Thanksgiving? Everyone in the family knew Tim owned the mashed potato bowl.
Salty, creamy, buttery—all of my favorite things in one whipped package. My thing. And the best Thanksgiving food, bar none.
But my mind has changed. Last Thanksgiving I realized that mashed potatoes are like a Bruce Springsteen album: There's only so much you really need. Ladies and gentlemen, my take is hotter than the burns my brother will sustain while frying that turkey Thursday: Green bean casserole is the best Thanksgiving food. Gooey and crispy, earthy—and not healthy despite the green beans—this is the dish that does it. Green bean casserole is the best.
Need reasons? Fine:
1. Green bean casserole is a meal in itself. Vegetables, salt, a crunchy element, and a creamy element ... voila ... meal. You can't say that about mashed taters, stuffing, cranberry sauce, not even candied yams. And no, charring the yams doesn't qualify as crispy.
2. It's art. Whole turkeys are perfect meal centerpieces, and I'd give candied yams a slight edge in the pretty department (marshmallows are dreamy), but the casserole is a rugged tapestry of green and brown. Guess what else is a rugged tapestry of green and brown? Land. Yes, green bean casserole is the food of the land. By nabbing a forkful of the casserole you're showing appreciation for Earth's mysterious beauty.
3. The fried onion. How often in life are we given an opportunity to liberally add onion rings to a dish because they're necessary?
4. Cream of Mushroom soup. Personal note: I went through a yearlong phase in which every week I ate Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup for lunch. I don't know if that sounds bad, but it's probably bad. An intensely milky rich roux boosted by earthy mushrooms and garlic "flavoring"? Yes, please. (But actually, no, it's really bad). Have you ever dipped a pastrami and provolone sandwich in cream of mushroom? (Don't.) It's awesome. (Yeah, but see your doctor, too.)
5. The origin story. This might be the best thing about green bean casserole: Its origins aren't tied to the very true story of white colonization of indigenous America in the 1600s; instead, they're tied to the very true story of gross recipes writ large during the happy homemaker 1950s.
If you don't know the tale, Campbell's was part of an effort across the industry to get homemakers (read: women) to use non-perishable products for more than their original intent. That meant test kitchen employees were tasked with creating recipes that were printed in newspapers, cookbooks, and on product labels, and promoted in radio and television advertisements.
But Campbell's test kitchen worker Dorcas Reilly (who died a few weeks ago) was dreaming up recipes involving cream of mushroom soup and came up with green bean casserole. And that one lasted. Why? Because it's freaking incredible.
Also the flavor combinations actually makes sense. Steamed or lightly roasted green beans don't pop alone, which is why we like adding chili powder or nuts to them, squeezing lemon on them, and blackening them beyond belief. So why not add a creamy, garlicky substance? And then sprinkle some crunch on top?
Thank you, Ms. Reilly. On Thursday, I will reserve a special moment for the gift you gave the world: The very best Thanksgiving food of all.