The History of Southern Pecan Pie

by AbbyFitz

Learn the history behind this quintessential Southern dish and how to make one for yourself using either a traditional recipe or a gluten-free, sugar-free alternative recipe.

Any Southern gathering isn't complete without a pecan pie. Whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas, or no special occasion at all, you can be sure pecan pie will be served.

Pecan pie has its roots in the South, but its popularity has quickly spread to the rest of the country and the world. Gourmet chefs have even discovered pecan pie and put their own personal spin on the recipe.

We here in the South don't mind if everyone loves our pecan pie. After all, the Southern region of the United States is known for its hospitality, and I like to think of pecan pie as the South's gift to the world.

But what are the origins of pecan pie? Why does everyone sing its praises? I'll discuss pecan pie's roots, its ingredients, and even a linguistics lesson. I'll also teach you how to make your own so you can enjoy this little slice of Southern heaven.

But don't worry, Dieters, I've got you covered. I've also included a gluten-free, sugar-free pecan pie recipe just for you.

"Pecan Pie may Not be Good for the Body, but it Sure is Good for the Soul."

As quoted by Commander Tucker from the movie Enterprise.

As unbelievable as it sounds, there are still people out there who haven't tried pecan pie, let alone heard of it.

Pecan pie had its humble beginnings here in the South, but word has gotten out. Now even international chefs such as Nigella Lawson and Gordon Ramsay have their own variations of this Southern pie.

I wanted to learn about the history of pecan pie and how it became such a Southern favorite. Turns out, there wasn't much to discover.

What I did find out is that there is no hard and fast recipe for pecan pie. There's pretty much a core recipe that can be enjoyed as is, or it can be adjusted to suit your tastes. To keep things simple, I've included the classic Southern pecan pie recipe and then given suggested variations.

Also, since I'm gluten intolerant and I watch my sugar intake, I've also included a gluten-free, sugar-free pecan pie recipe. So if you're a celiac or a diabetic, you will be able to enjoy pecan pie. If you're a dieter who is wanting a lower calorie, lower carb pie, this recipe will also appeal to you.

So pull up a chair, let's visit, and learn how to make pecan pie like a Southerner.

Who Invented Pecan Pie?

I'd like to travel back in time and kiss the individual responsible.

The origins of pecan pie are a little murky. There's really no written recipe or mention of it prior to 1886, but that's not to say it wasn't being made and eaten before then.

After all, most cooks were probably like my mother and grandmother who hardly ever used recipes and never wrote down how they made a dish.

Pecan pie is most likely a descendant of lemon cheese pie, a recipe which English colonists brought with them to the New World. In the South, this recipe transformed into vinegar pie, then morphed into the pecan pie we love and enjoy today.

Pecan pie was probably created out of imagination, convenience, (pecan trees are found in every southern state) and frugality (stretching food stores).  

I can just picture a woman, busy making her vinegar pie when she suddenly had an idea. She'd been cracking pecans the night before, saw them on the table, and thought, "I wonder what that would taste like?" Voila! Pecan pie was born.

But pecan pie then and pecan pie now are two completely different things. Prior to the 1930's, pecan pie was probably made with cane syrup, honey, molasses, or maple syrup. In the early thirties, Karo corn syrup began being used as the main ingredient in pecan pie. It's now the only syrup to use when making a traditional Southern pecan pie.

Southern Pie Cookbooks:


What is in a Pecan Pie?

Traditional pecan pie is made with six basic ingredients.

The number one ingredient needed for pecan pie is, of course, Karo corn syrup. Light corn syrup is more commonly used, but if you want a stronger, richer flavor, use dark corn syrup.

True to its custardy beginnings, the remaining pecan pie ingredients are eggs, sugar, vanilla, and butter.

The pie crust for pecan pie is a typical pastry dough. Much to the chagrin of my mother, grandmother, and aunts, pastry is the one aspect of cooking I never mastered. Before I went wheat-free, my secret recipe for unbelievable pie crust was Pillsbury. Don't feel guilty if it's yours, too. I promise I won't tell!

Easy Pie Crust Recipe

Creating a good pie crust is an art form.

Once you get the hang of making pecan pie, you can branch out and be creative. There's many variations of this traditional pie. I'm listing a few of them, but don't be afraid to try an idea of your own.

  • Add 1 cup chocolate chips for a chocolate pecan pie
  • Add 2 tbsp. bourbon for a pie with a kick
  • Add 1/4 teaspoon each of Cardamom, Clove, and Nutmeg for a spiced pecan pie
  • Reduce pecans to 1 cup and add 1/2 cup peanut butter for a peanut butter pecan pie
  • Replace butter with 1/4 cup heavy cream for a butterscotch pecan pie
  • Add 1 cup shredded coconut for a coconut pecan pie

How to Make a Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie

Who says you can't combine variations?

Pee-Can? Puh-Khan? Oh, Let's Call the Whole Thing Off!

There's two ways to pronunce this Southern nut, but which is correct?

There's two camps when it comes to how "pecan" is pronounced. And depending on who you ask, each camp is going to staunchly say the opposing side is pronouncing it wrong.

Here in Florida, I've always pronounced it "pee-can." Everyone else I know who are natives pronounce it that way as well. The Georgia natives I've met and spoken with also say "pee-can."

However, there's the other camp: "Puh-khan." I've always assumed it's how it was pronounced elsewhere in the country, as most snowbirds I know say it that way.

Imagine my surprise when doing some digging for this article that states such as Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, not to mention most of the Union, say "puh-khan."

Apparently, we Florida and Georgia natives are a regional anomaly because we say "pee-can."

But no matter whether you say "pee-can" or "puh-khan," at least we can all agree on the pronunciation of yum!

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Best Southern Pecan Pie Recipe

Best Southern Pecan Pie Recipe

The original pecan pie recipe.

Prep time 5 min  -  Total time 60 min
Ingredients for 8 servings
1 cup Karo corn syrup  • 3 eggs  • 1 cup sugar  • 2 tbsp. melted butter  • 1 tsp. vanilla  • 1 1/2 cup pecans (can be chopped or left halved)  • 1 9-inch unbaked pie shell

Let's get started!

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine ingredients

Combine ingredients

Mix corn syrup, eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, then add pecans. You may stir in the pecans at this point if you like, or place them in the unbaked pie shell and pour the filling over them.

Make your pie pretty!

Make your pie pretty!

If all you do is pour your pecan filling in a pie crust and bake it, it will still look amazing when it's finished. But if you want to dress it up or fill in holes, you can arrange the nuts as you like.



Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until set. To be a bit more precise, bake until the filling reaches 200 F.

Let cool for two hours, then serve.

Recipe  5.0/5 Stars (1 Votes)

Healthy Alternative to Pecan Pie

Don't let "healthy" make you think you're getting the short end of the stick.

Pecan pie is a staple here in the South. Either declining it when offered or failing to serve it at family functions can be a mortal sin, so those of us with dietary restrictions can be left out in the cold -- well, humidity.

I'm not one to give up on my food easily. Where there's a will, there's a way. After scouring the internet and fiddling with things a bit, I came up with a gluten-free, sugar-free pecan pie recipe.

It's a bit more work that the traditional pecan pie, but doable. The most labor intensive step is the pie crust, which uses almond flour, coconut flour, coconut oil, salt, and an egg.

The filling is simple, using just eggs, Swerve, stevia, xylitol honey or syrup, vanilla, and pecans. I can tell you, it's pretty close to its sugar and wheat laden cousin in terms of taste. I've a few picky eaters around here when it comes to healthy food, and they've given it a thumbs up!


Xylitol is a natural sweetener, but can be toxic to dogs. Use with care if you have four-legged friends. Any sugar free syrup or honey can be substituted for the xylitol.

Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Pecan Pie Recipe

Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Pecan Pie Recipe

A pecan pie made without corn syrup that diabetics, dieters, and celiacs can call their own.

Prep time 5 min  -  Total time 50 min
Ingredients for 8 servings
3 eggs  • 1 cup Swerve  • 1 tsp. stevia  • 1 cup xylitol syrup (or sugar free syrup or honey of your choice)  • 2 tbsp. melted coconut oil  • 1 tsp. vanilla  • 1 1/2 cups pecans

Let's Get Started!

Let's Get Started!

Prepare the gluten free pie crust. (see below for recipe) Prebake crust at 325 F until lightly brown, about 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and increase temperature to 350 F.

Mix it up!

Mix it up!

Mix together eggs, Swerve, stevia, xylitol syrup, melted coconut oil, and vanilla. Add in pecans and pour into cooled crust. Alternatively, you can put the nuts in the pie plate and pour the filling over them.



Bake at 350 F for 45-50 minutes or until set. Cool completely before serving.

Recipe  5.0/5 Stars (1 Votes)

How to Make a Gluten-Free Pie Crust


  • 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp. stevia
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
Mix together all ingredients until stiff.
Mix together all ingredients until stiff.
Press into a 9-inch pie plate.
Press into a 9-inch pie plate.
Prebake pie crust for 15 minutes at 325F and let cool.
Prebake pie crust for 15 minutes at 325F and let cool.
Updated: 11/06/2014, AbbyFitz
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Jim Naden on 07/19/2017

My daughter in law is from South Carolina and pronounces it.. "pee-can"

AbbyFitz on 02/17/2014

It tastes really good!

DerdriuMarriner on 02/17/2014

Yummy! I grew up on pecan pie, thanks to my dad's having spent memorable years of his childhood in Florida. Our family versions alternated molasses and dark Karo corn syrup.
It's wonderful that you've created a gluten- and sugar-free recipe. Even though I'm not gluten intolerant, I like the nuances of gluten-free recipes.

AbbyFitz on 01/15/2014

Thank you for reading! Yes, moms and gramdmas make this pie best :)

AbbyFitz on 01/13/2014

I'm glad you like them! Pumpkin pie is good, too.

kajohu on 01/13/2014

I only started to like pecan pie a few years ago (I'm a northerner, and never saw these pies as a kid). I'm still more of a fruit pie or pumpkin pie lover, but a slice of a good pecan pie is quite heavenly too.

AbbyFitz on 01/12/2014

Thank you! It is good to splurge once in a while, and this is a good recipe to do it on :)

Mira on 01/12/2014

This is a really nice page. I love pecan pie. Like Jo, I'll have to look for corn syrup here. I'm trying to cut down on sweets, but I still make a few things. Pecan pie is one of the things I'd like to make on special occasions.

ologsinquito on 01/12/2014

Pecan pie is delicious and this recipe is extra special because it's gluten free. Pinned to Food and Recipe board.

AbbyFitz on 01/12/2014

You're welcome! It's a very simple recipe and hard to mess up.

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