November 24, 2022


The Extremely American History of Pecan Pie (ROSSI ANASTOPOULO, NOV 24, 2022, Slate)

Unlike apples (and apple pie), which we so often describe as American, pecans are native to the North American continent, predating the country we call the United States by millennia. They were an important food source for many Indigenous people thousands of years ago. In fact, the nut's name most likely comes from the Algonquin word "paccan," which refers to a nut that needs to be cracked by stone. Like so much else related to Indigenous food origins and their links to what Americans eat today, that history's been pretty much erased.

Pecans were cultivated by white people once they settled on the continent, and there are accounts of Thomas Jefferson growing them at Monticello. He even recommended them to his pal George Washington, who installed them amongst the crops of Mount Vernon. But commercial pecan production would not have taken off without Black ingenuity and innovation. In 1847, an enslaved man known only as Antoine invented a way to graft pecan trees, melding the scion of one pecan tree to the rootstock of another for easy propagation. Introduced on the Oak Alley plantation in Vachery, Louisiana, Antoine's game-changing invention quickly spread across the South, launching lucrative pecan cultivation in states like Georgia and Texas, which would eventually become hot spots for the nut.

Once the commercial pecan market that Antoine made possible sprang up, the nut started to become available everywhere--by 1867 you could find pecans sold in New York markets through the winter and spring. Beyond city markets, pecans were also exhibited at fairs and festivals all over, including the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

As the nut grew more popular, people started to use it more and more in their kitchens. But there are very few accounts of people baking them into pie until the end of the century. In 1886, Harper's Bazaar declared: "Pecan pie is not only delicious, but is capable of being made 'a real state pie,' as an enthusiastic admirer said." Another early recipe, featuring a meringue, was published in 1897 as Texas Pecan Pie in Ladies' Home Journal.

But pecan pie really exploded in the early 1900s. What remained a mostly regionalized dish at the turn of the century, was, by the 1940s, everywhere, with recipes in beloved cookbooks like Joy of Cooking. How?

We owe it all to Karo Corn Syrup.

Posted by at November 24, 2022 12:39 PM