Celebrating a Beloved Dessert: National Pecan Pie Day, July 12

Grab a slice on July 12th and celebrate National Pecan Pie Day

I’m simply nutty over today’s honoree, National Pecan Pie Day on July 12. It’s pretty easy to get behind a day dedicated to one of my favorite desserts. Indeed, 90 percent of Americans surveyed believe eating a slice of pie is one of life’s simple pleasures indulging in 186 million commercially sold pies every year.

People who prefer pecan pie over the many other types of pies describe themselves as thoughtful and analytical. We’re not sure if this still holds true for those who add ice cream or whipped cream but, nonetheless, it’s time to celebrate the delicious dessert today.

Pies and other desserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of National Pecan Pie Day

It is uncertain how National Pecan Pie Day started but we certainly feel indebted to an unknown person because we couldn’t agree more with the idea of celebrating such a beloved dessert.

Pecan pie has a long, Southern history whose origins are highly debatable. Some believe pecan pie started in New Orleans by French immigrants turned Southern in the 1700s after being introduced to the pecan by Native Americans. Others believe pecan pie got its start in Alabama but this claim is unsupported by written recipes or printed literature. Of course, it’s not hard to believe many Southerners would love to lay claim to being the inventor of pecan pie.

Following the Civil War, commercial developers brought in a few varieties of pecans to grow in Georgia which is now the main commercial grower of pecans in the U.S. Grafted pecan trees also became prevalent in Louisiana in the mid- to late-1800s.

Pecans for your pie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name of the nut itself is derived from the French word pacane which is taken from the Algonquian word for a nut that requires a stone to crack. That may help explain why some believe the French invented the pecan pie after settling in New Orleans though there’s seemingly little evidence to support that.

Once people had pecans they started using them for baking. The earliest printed pecan recipes began popping up in Texas cookbooks in the 1870s and 1880s; the first recipe that most closely resembles what we know today as pecan pie was published in 1898 in a church charity cookbook in St. Louis but it was sent in by a Texas woman.

One of the earliest recipes for a pecan pie appeared in the Lady’s Home Journal in 1897. The recipe for the Texas Pecan Pie was later reprinted in several newspapers across the country. It included six ingredients—sugar, sweet milk, pecan kernels, eggs, and flour. The recipe is basically directions for a custard base unlike the pecan pies we know today. 

By the beginning of the 20th century, recipes for pecan pie had started appearing outside of Texas but the pie wouldn’t surge in popularity until the mid-1920s. That’s when the manufacturer of Karo syrup began printing a recipe for pecan pie on cans of the product as James McWilliams noted in The Pecan: A History of America’s Native Nut. Wide distribution of Karo syrup introduced many people to pecan pie who found it was quite simple to make. That is why, to this day, most of the recipes for pecan pie still use Karo syrup.

While most hold the perception that pecan pie remains a Southern dish, in reality, its popularity has swept across the U.S. with regions taking on their own ingredient preferences.

An assortment of pies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What are the typical ingredients in a pecan pie?

Technically classified as a sugar pie, the classic pecan pie recipe promulgated by the makers of Karo syrup uses a cup of the product in the mixture along with eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla extract, and of course, pecans. Alternatives for Karo syrup include brown sugar and molasses and some recipes add bourbon, whiskey, and chocolate into the mix. There are also pecan pie-cheesecake hybrids, pecan hand pies, and, strangely enough, pseudo-healthy versions involving chia seeds. Pecan pie is nearly always baked in a traditional pie crust verses a crumble crust or a cookie crust.

Since the recipe for pecan pie is so simple, there are really no stark regional divides when it comes to method or ingredients. Sweetness, however, is a different story: Folks from south of the Mason-Dixon Line generally prefer their pies on the sweeter side relaying an old Southern baker’s credo that a pie should be sweet enough so that the fillings in your teeth hurt.

How do you really pronounce pecan?

Pronunciation surveys have yielded as many as four variants on the pronunciation of pecan: pee-KAHN, pick-KAHN, PEE-can, and PEE-kahn. The story is told of a customer’s experience at a restaurant in Georgia where a waitress informed him: “Over here, we don’t call it pee-can pie. To us, a pecan is something that long distance truckers use when they don’t want to make many stops. We call it pick-kahn”.

Pies and more pies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Pecan Pie Day timeline

  • 6000 BC: Archeological findings discover that pecans were used in Texas by Native Americans for over 8,000 years
  • 1886: The first recipe is printed in Harper’s Bazaar although people agree pecan pie was a Southern favorite long before this
  • 1930s: The Corn Products Refining Company creates Karo, a corn syrup and in 1930 the wife of one of their sales executives discovers it can be used as a sweeter substitute to maple syrup
  • 1940s: Pecan pie becomes a regular recipe in cookbooks
Pecans for your pie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ways to celebrate National Pecan Pie Day

Bake a pecan pie: Making a delicious pecan pie is a great way to celebrate the day. Use your favorite recipe or try something new—you won’t regret it.

Enjoy a slice of pecan pie: Take a trip to your favorite bakery and enjoy a slice of this classic dessert. Make sure to savor every bite!

Share a pecan pie with friends: Gather up some friends and share a slice of pecan pie together. It’s always more fun when you can share the experience with others.

Send one to a friend: Pecan pies can be made and even frozen if you would like to give one as a gift but there are many bakeries online that sell fresh pecan pies available for delivery. It’s such an easy way to send a sweet treat to a friend who may not otherwise make or buy one for themselves. Definitely worth a try!

Pies and other desserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try a new twist on pecan pie: Get creative and try adding some unique flavors or ingredients to your traditional pecan pie recipe. It’s a great way to experiment and have some fun.

Try a new variation: It’s hard to beat the classic pecan pie recipe but if you’re looking for a change there are plenty of variations out there. One of the most common is chocolate pecan pie which simply adds chocolate to the main recipe. And when has adding chocolate ever ruined anything? Beyond that, you’ll find pecan pie cheesecake, pumpkin pecan pie, bourbon pecan pie, and cranberry-orange white-chocolate pecan pie (that’s a mouthful!).

Create a themed party: Invite your friends over for an evening of pecan pies, games, and fun! Decorate with festive colors and use plenty of pecans in your snacks and desserts.

Texas pecans © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun facts about pecans

The word pecan comes from an Algonquin word that means a nut that requires a stone to crack because of the hard shell

When Spanish explorers discovered them in the 16th Century, they named them nuez de larruga which means wrinkle nut

Native Americans ate pecans but also made pecan milk for infants and the elderly

Native Americans also made a fermented intoxicating pecan beverage called powcohicora

There are over 1,000 different varieties of pecan nuts

It takes 12 years for a pecan tree to reach maturity and begin producing nuts

Pecan trees lives for 300 years

Pecan trees can grow to over 150 feet tall and have trunks that measure over 3 feet in diameter

Astronauts took pecans to the moon two times in the Apollo space mission

Okmulgee, Oklahoma holds the world’s records for the largest pecan pie, pecan cookie, and pecan brownie

Pecan trees © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pecan capital of the world is Albany, Georgia which boasts more than 600,000 pecan trees.

The pecan is heart healthy and contains antioxidants, 19 vitamins and minerals, and healthy fat; one of the mineral components is zinc which is important in producing testosterone in both males and females.

It takes about 78 pecans for one pecan pie

Texas chose the pecan tree as its state tree in 1919 and the pecan pie as its state pie in 2013

​There are over 1,000 varieties of pecans

Worth Pondering…

I make a mean pecan pie and I have a great recipe for pralines—also using pecans. Pralines take a lot of patience, and patience is a must in the duck blind as well as in the kitchen. Good things come to those who wait.

—Phil Robertson