The Historic Connection Between Pecan Pie And Karo Syrup

If your family's recipe for pecan pie has been passed down for generations, there's a good chance it calls for Karo brand corn syrup. According to Eater, the dessert was originally a Texas invention and has been found in cookbooks as early as 1898. The pecan nut is native to the United States and was a central ingredient in Native American cooking. The word "pecan" comes from the Algonquin word "paccan", as per Zingerman's Bakehouse, and they were an essential part of the Native American diet. There was even a recipe for a pecan-based drink, similar to modern nut milk. However, it wasn't until the mid-1920s that pecan pie became popular with the rest of the United States. That was largely due to the packaging of Karo corn syrups.

James McWilliams, author of "The Pecan: A History of America's Native Nut" explained (via Eater) that it all started when the company began printing a recipe for pecan pie on the labels of its cans, as a suggestion for using corn syrups. This, in turn, introduced pecan pie to anyone who bought the widely-available product. Soon after being popularized by Karo syrup, the pecan pie recipe would go on to appear in major cookbooks "Joy of Cooking" and "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook" with Karo syrup as a main ingredient, Zingerman's Bakehouse shares.

Pecan pie once went by a different name

Though pecan pie is now a well-loved dessert all across America, it was first introduced to many as "Karo Prize Pie," as per the company's website. The pie was referred to as such not only on cans of Karo, but also in magazines and print ads all across the U.S. as part of a major marketing campaign promoting it as a sugar substitute, Zingerman's Bakehouse reports. Because sugar shortages were rampant throughout the 1920s and 1930s, being able to make a dessert without sugar was a major selling point.

"A treat for the eye — a thrill to the taste — and so easy to make!" was the dessert's famous tagline. The original recipe included a simple combination of Karo syrup and pecans, along with eggs, sugar, butter, and vanilla extract baked in a pie shell. Since going from Karo Prize Pie to pecan pie, that recipe hasn't changed much and still remains a Southern American classic.