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

March 14 Is Pi Day, Not National Pie Day. Here’s the Difference.

Pi Day is on March 14 and any day that combines fun, education, and pie is a day worth celebrating

While there’s a food holiday for just about everything you love to eat, it turns out there are actually two separate days every year when people come together to celebrate pie: National Pie Day on January 23 and Pi Day on March 14. As you can imagine, it’s easy to confuse the two occasions when there’s pie involved but here’s a quick breakdown of what makes them different. For starters, Pi Day is about much more than stuffing your face with flaky, fruit-filled desserts.

Now would be a great time to grab a generous slice of apple pie (and some Blue Bell ice cream on top) before we dig into what makes each of these two dates special. Learning makes you hungry, right? No? Just me? Okay.

A good day for a pi(e) fest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When Is National Pie Day?

National Pie Day is observed on January 23.

What Is National Pie Day?

We can thank Charlie Papazian, an American nuclear engineer, craft beer brewer, and author who is credited with creating the food holiday in the 1970s after he declared his birthday to be National Pie Day. Really, he just up and proclaimed the date as a national celebration of pie. The American Pie Council has sponsored the holiday since 1986. 

Of course, every day can be pie day if you try hard enough but some restaurants—mostly local restaurants and regional chains—end up marking the date with free pie, discounts on pie, and other pie promotions. Keep an eye out for deals at your favorite restaurants or you can always celebrate by baking a pie yourself.

A good day for a pi(e) fest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When Is Pi Day?

Pi Day is observed on March 14.

What Is Pi Day?

Get ready for a flashback to high school math class.

Pi Day is celebrated on March 14 (3/14) around the world. Pi (Greek letter π) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant—the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter—which is approximately 3.14159. For any circle, the distance around the edge is a little more than three times the distance across. Pi Day is an annual opportunity for math enthusiasts to recite the infinite digits of Pi, talk to their friends about math—and eat pie.

Pi has been calculated to over 50 trillion digits beyond its decimal point. While only a handful of digits are needed for typical calculations, pi’s infinite nature makes it a fun challenge to memorize and to computationally calculate more and more and more digits.

Typing π into a calculator and pressing ENTER will yield the result 3.141592654, not because this value is exact but because a calculator’s display is often limited to 10 digits.  Pi is actually an irrational number (a decimal with no end and no repeating pattern) that is most often approximated with the decimal 3.14.

A good day for a pi(e) fest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pi: A perennial puzzle

Pi has interested people around the world for over 4,000 years. Many mathematicians from famous ones such as Fibonacci, Newton, Leibniz, and Gauss to lesser well-known mathematical minds have toiled over pi, calculated its digits, and applied it in numerous areas of mathematics.  Some spent the better parts of their lives calculating just a few digits. Here is a sampling of the many milestones in the life of pi.

Early decimal approximations for pi were obtained in a number of different ways. For example, in ancient Babylon rope stretchers marking the locations of buildings and boundaries estimated pi to be 258 = 3.125. The ancient Egyptians determined the ratio to be (169)2 ≈ 3.16. The earliest calculations of pi were largely based on measurement.

Archimedes of Syracuse (287–212 BC), a Greek mathematician, was the first to use an algorithmic approach to calculate pi.  He drew a polygon inside a circle and drew a second polygon outside of the circle. Then he continuously added more and more sides of both polygons getting closer and closer to the shape of the circle. Having reached 96-sided polygons, he proved that 22371 < pi < 227.

However, it was first given the Greek letter as its name when William Oughtred called it as such in his works dating back to 1647 and later embraced by the scientific community when Leonhard Euler used the symbol in 1737.

A good day for a pi(e) fest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of National Pi Day

But how did Pi Day end up in a country-wide phenomenon? For that, we need to travel to the Exploratorium in San Francisco where in 1988 it was thought up by physicist Larry Shaw.

Shaw linked March 14 with the first digits of pi (3.14) in order to organize a special day to bond the Exploratorium staff together where he offered fruit pies and tea to everyone starting at 1:59 pm, the following three digits of the value. A few years later, after Larry’s daughter, Sara, remarked that the special date was also the birthday of Albert Einstein, they started celebrating the life of the world-famous scientist.

Pi Day became an annual Exploratorium tradition that still goes on today and it didn’t take long for the idea to grow exponentially hitting a peak on March 12, 2009 when the U.S Congress declared it a national holiday.

Now, celebrated by math geeks all around the circumference of the world, Pi Day became a pop culture phenomenon with several places partaking in the activities, antics, observations, and all the pie eating they can.

A good day for a pi(e) fest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the numbers

  • 14th of March: Also Albert Einstein’s birthday
  • 31.4 million: The world record held by Emma Haruka Iwao for calculating the most accurate value of pi
  • 4: The number of months it took Emma Haruka Iwao to calculate the most accurate value of pi
  • 70,000: The number of decimal places of pi memorized by Rajveer Meena in 2015
  • 10: The number of hours it took Rajveer Meena to make the world record
  • 3.125: The original number used for pi by the Babylonians
  • 22.4 trillion: The number of digits calculated by Swiss scientist Peter Trueb using a computer
  • 24: The number of hard drives on the computer used by Peter Trueb for calculating pi
  • 700,000: The number of years it would take to recite the 22 trillion digits of pi
  • 15,000: The number of digits of pi memorized by Mark Umile in the U.S.
A good day for a pi(e) fest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to celebrate National Pi Day

Celebrate Pi Day wherever you are. 

1. Visit the Exploratorium

The Exploratorium in San Francisco holds an all-day celebration. From the pie feast to the pi procession, from π activities to pi gear, the Exploratorium demystifies some of our long-standing Pi Day rituals and offers insight into a few fun ways for anyone to celebrate this infinite decimal.

Visiting the Exploratorium? Look for the exhibits Pi Has Your Number and Pi Toss.

2. Write a π-ku

First line: 3 syllables
Second line: 1 syllable
Third line: 4 syllables

A good day for a pi(e) fest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Estimate π with toothpicks

Grab a box of toothpicks to recreate the method known as Buffon’s Needles which allows you to calculate π just like 18th-century French naturalist (and gambler) Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon. Buffon was inspired by a then-popular game of chance that involved tossing a coin onto a tiled floor and betting on whether it would land entirely within one of the tiles. This method is absurdly inefficient—but you’ll also be surprised that you can calculate π this way.

3. Throw a Pi(e) feast

Pi Day and pie go hand in hand; Shaw’s very first Pi Day celebration in 1988 included a pie feast for Exploratorium staff with fruit pies and a tea urn. So show off your crafty skills on March 14, and go all out on audacious pie crusts and creations worthy of Pinterest fandom—or simply order your favorite pizza pi(e).

A good day for a pi(e) fest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Cutting Pi

String and scissors are all you need to find pi all around you.

It may be hard to cut pie into equal pieces but in this Snack you can cut string into pi pieces.

5. Pi Graph

Use straight lines to learn about circles.

Graphing data can help you discover patterns in nature.

6. Pi Toss

Randomly toss some toothpicks, with pi as your reward.

Asked to get an estimate for the famed mathematical constant pi, you might do what the ancient Greeks did: Divide the circumference of a circle by its diameter. Here you can estimate pi by a less conventional method: the random tossing of toothpicks.

A good day for a pi(e) fest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Bake and eat a pi(e)

Perhaps the greatest way to observe Pi Day is to bake—then eat—a pie with the pi sign baked into the upper layer of crust or lattice. You can also create the pi sign with pepperoni on top of a pizza. Or since Pi Day only happens once a year, you can go wild and make both!

How you celebrate National Pie Day and Pi Day is up to you. As always, celebrate responsibly. 

Worth Pondering…

Probably no symbol in mathematics has evoked as much mystery, romanticism, misconception and human interest as the number pi.

—William L. Schaaf, Nature and History of Pi

TGIP: Thank God it’s National Pie Day!

Pie purveyors create sweet comfort by the slice

Pie, in a word, is my passion. Since as far back as I can remember, I have simply loved pie. I can’t really explain why. If one loves poetry, or growing orchids, or walking along the beach at sunset, the why isn’t all that important! To me, pie is poetry that makes the world a better place.
―Ken Haedrich, Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie

Good morning. There are many things to celebrate today: National Handwriting Day, Measure Your Feet Day (I only ask….why?!), and National Pie Day!

Friday’s Fried Chicken, Shiner, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January 23: National Pie Day

National Pie Day is today, a January 23 holiday. Today is a special day that is set aside to bake all of your favorite pies. On this day, you are also encouraged to bake a few new pie recipes. And most importantly, it’s a day to eat pies! The American Pie Council created this day simply to celebrate them.

A great way to celebrate National Pie Day is to bake some pies and give them away to friends, neighbors, and relatives. You never know, you may be starting a tradition of pie giving between your friends and family.

Mom’s Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Pie Day celebrates one of America’s favorite desserts. No matter how you slice it, pie in just about any form makes a crowd happy. Fruit pies, berry pies, cream pies, pecan pies—they are mouthwatering servings of homemade goodness. 

Whether it is apple, pumpkin, blueberry, raspberry, cherry, peach, Key lime, lemon meringue, coconut cream, sweet potato, mince, or countless more, the sweet, savory tastes are as American as… well, you know.

Many people think that Pie Day is March 14, but that is Pi Day—the celebration of the famous mathematical constant when people also eat pie.

Krause Berry Farm, Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Boulder, Colorado, school teacher named Charlie Papazian takes credit for founding National Pie Day. Around 1975, he declared to his students that his birthday—January 23—would be known as National Pie Day. Charlie likes pie and he celebrates with candles on his birthday pie.

Charlie also founded the American Pie Council and that group registered the holiday and began promoting National Pie Day celebrations in 1986.

It’s a holiday simply to celebrate pie, because pie so deserves to be celebrated!

I’ve been pondering pie lately and why it, perhaps more than any other food, is so endearing. Pie somehow takes us back, like old songs do, to those who remember when moments worth recalling. And why I wonder, does it seem as if the pie has become the cool kid on the dessert block … again? Trendy or not, pie satisfies our sweet tooth and carries us back in time to those fun times. It deserves its own day.

You can join the celebration by baking your pie since it’s easy as, well, pie. Or consider your options: Plenty of pie purveyors have perfected the art of creating sweet comfort by the slice.  A good pie, after all, is like a hug. The better the pie, the bigger the embrace! I recently went looking for full-on-tackle hugs—the ultimate pies—and found them.

Julian Pie Company, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of pies

Pie has been around since the ancient Egyptians. The first pies were made by early Romans who may have learned about them through the Greeks. These pies were sometimes made in reeds which were used for the sole purpose of holding the filling and not for eating with the filling.

The Romans must have spread the word about pies around Europe as the Oxford English Dictionary notes that the word pie was a popular word in the 14th century. The first pie recipe was published by the Romans and was for a rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie.

The early pies were predominately meat pies. Pyes (pies) originally appeared in England as early as the twelfth century. The crust of the pie was referred to as coffyn. There was more crust than filling. Often these pies were made using fowl and the legs were left to hang over the side of the dish and used as handles. Fruit pies or tarts (pasties) were probably first made in the 1500s. English tradition credits making the first cherry pie to Queen Elizabeth I.

Krause Berry Farm, Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pie came to America with the first English settlers. The early colonists cooked their pies in long narrow pans calling them coffins like the crust in England. As in Roman times, the early American pie crusts often were not eaten but simply designed to hold the filling during baking. It was during the American Revolution that the term crust was used instead of coffyn.

Over the years, pie has evolved to become what it is today—the most traditional American dessert. Pie has become so much a part of American culture throughout the years that we now commonly use the term as American as apple pie.

Friday’s Fried Chicken, Shiner, Texas© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Pie Day by the numbers 

  • 6000 BC: Earliest date pie is traced back to
  • 186 million: Pies sold in stores each year in America alone
  • 23,236 pounds (10,540kg): Weight of the largest pie ever baked
  • 1675: Pumpkin pie makes its first appearance in a cookbook
  • 47: Percentage of Americans think pie is comforting
  • $9,500: Price of the world’s most expensive pie
  • 1 in 5: Americans have eaten a whole pie by themselves
  • 9: Percentage of Americans prefer eating the crust first
  • 1644: Year that pie was banned by Oliver Cromwell for being a pagan form of pleasure
  • 18: Percentage of men that say their wives bake the best pie
Mom’s Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to celebrate National Pie Day

Eat some pie: Naturally, the best way to celebrate National Pie Day is to eat a slice of your favorite—or try a new and adventurous flavor

Bake a pie: Baking a pie can be as easy as, well, pie. Look up a recipe online, in a cookbook, or ask a family member to share a favorite recipe

Share a pie: If you make or buy a pie, share it; by its very nature, pie is meant to be eaten with others

Sample different slices of pie: When life gives you choices, you don’t have to only pick one

Krause Berry Farm, Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Share your favorite pie recipe with friends and family: Baking with others brings a whole new ingredient to your recipe.

Eat a whole pie by yourself: Sometimes you just need to indulge in the sweeter things in life but I recommend eating a pie in more than one sitting.

Host a pie night: Gather family and friends for a pie celebration—everyone must bring one homemade pie for the pie buffet (More than 100 folks with 100 pies?)

Julian Pie Company, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enter a pie bake-off: Many organizations hold pie baking contests; if you’re feeling proud of your baking skills, try showing them off at your local bake-off

Host a pie-making contest: Invite the best pie-makers in town to compete for prizes in various categories; ask cooking teachers, pastry chefs, and pie lovers to be judges (Contact the American Pie Council and they will send you a sample pie judging sheet)

Eat more pie: You can always have another slice, preferably warm and a la mode.

Do pie stuff: Sing pie songs, read pie books, quote pie poems, make pie charts.

Mom’s Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Pie Facts

The oldest known pie recipe was for a rye-crusted goat’s cheese and honey pie in ancient Rome about 2,000 years ago

Related pie days

  • National Pi Day (March 14)
  • National Cherry Pie Day (February 20)
  • National Blueberry Pie Day (April 28)
  • National Pecan Pie Day (July 12)
  • National Peach Pie Day (August 24)
  • National Pumpkin Pie Day (December 25)

No matter how you cut it, pies are a great reason to celebrate.

So preheat your oven or visit your local bakery, grab a slice, and celebrate the simple, delicious pleasures of good pie.

Julian Pie Company, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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Worth Pondering…

Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.

―Yogi Berra

I ate another apple pie and ice cream; that’s practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious, of course.

―Jack Kerouac, On the Road