Pecan Pie History: How This Dish Became the Official State Dessert of Texas

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Tony Maples Photography


Forget as American as apple pie. Try as American as pecan pie. Unlike apples, pecans are native to the United States and grow in a wide swath from Illinois down throughout the South. Though many other southern states have pecans, Texas is the only state among those with pecan pie as its official state dessert. And, if you’ve ever had fresh pecans, it’s not hard to see why Texans love their pecan pie. How did this dessert become a staple in the Lone Star State? That tale accounts for only one part of the rich and tasty pecan pie history that centers on Texas.

What is Pecan Pie?

Pecan pie history brings this dish to Texas tables

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Though pecan pie graces almost every Texan table at the holidays, some people have never had the chance to try this blissful dessert. In many areas of the country, where pecans do not naturally grow, these nuts are some of the most expensive to purchase, and it’s cheaper and easier to make other holiday favorites such as pumpkin or apple pie in those areas. Pecan pie starts with a standard pie crust. Into this crust, you pour a sweet, sticky mixture of fresh pecans, eggs, sugar, corn syrup, and butter. The richness of the buttery pecans naturally foils the sweetness from the sugars, resulting in a dessert that appeals to those who love sweetness and nuts.

Who Created the First Pecan Pie Recipe?

Pecans have hard inner shells that require removal to reach the nutmeat inside

Photo: maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com

Though pecans have likely been used by Native Americans for centuries, they did not appear in print until the late 19th century. From then, pecan pie history takes a very Texas focus. Since the 1870s, pecan recipes began to flourish in Texas cookbooks, though pie was not among them. Though a single person cannot be pinpointed as creating pecan pie, a recipe for this dessert first appeared in a St. Louis cookbook in 1898, and the credit goes to a Texas woman who submitted it. These nuts wouldn’t catch on in the South’s pie recipes until later when a company integrated its product into the recipe, which popularized both.

Karo Syrup and the Commercialization of Pecan Pie

Karo syrup plays a significant role in pecan pie history

Photo: Facebook/Karo Syrup

The vast majority of pecan pie recipes today use Karo corn syrup. The reason for this starts in the middle of the 1920s. At this time, recipes were frequently created by food companies to encourage consumers to purchase and use their products. Since many products were unknown to home cooks who in previous decades had use homegrown foods, the recipes helped them to learn about the foods. One of these companies to introduce recipes for its products was Karo, which makes corn syrup. Its recipe for pecan pie helped the dish spread throughout the South where both corn syrup and pecans were easy to find. Because the recipe was so simple and pecans came into season in the fall, people in the South began to put pecan pie on their holiday tables.

The Official Dessert of Texas

Pecan Pie Slice

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Pecan pie history would be incomplete without mentioning its latest development. In 2013, a proposal from a freshman representative, Rep. Marsha Farney, resulted in the Texas House of Representatives passing a resolution to make pecan pie the official state dessert. Though the debate surrounding the resolution was in jest, some suggested adding that the pie cannot have chocolate or must be made with only Texas pecans. These additions did not make it into the final resolution. Since then, Texas has celebrated pecan pie as its official state dessert. It only makes sense because pecan trees grow throughout the Texas Hill Country, and they bear fruit during the fall, just in time for the winter holidays.