The History of Thanksgiving Pies

If you’re living in the United States of America on the fourth Thursday of November, chances are you’ll be seated at a Thanksgiving table surround by family and friends. And you know the spread you’ll likely find there: Turkey, ham, stuffing, marshmallow covered yams, green things mixed with pork-this-or-that to make them taste delicious. But, don’t forget the dessert! Other than the turkey, no Thanksgiving meal is complete without saving a little bit of room for a familiar piece of pie to savor at the end of a holiday feast – like a slice of Derby-Pie® chocolate nut pie!


But where did pie come from?


Historians have traced its origins to the ancient Greeks, who are thought to have invented the concept of the pastry shell, and the first-known pie recipe was a honey and goat cheese concoction made by the Romans. However, early pies were not what we think of today when we think of pie. Initially, the pastry or crust was simply the vessel used to cook the filling inside of it – they were even called “coffins” – and later, pie crusts were used as a method to preserve the spiced-meat mixtures that were most commonly used to fill them with.


To many, pumpkin pie is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the quintessential Thanksgiving pie – but even this pie has more complex roots throughout history.


Pumpkins are native to North America but were exported to Western Europe in the 17th century. In fact, the first recorded instance of a pumpkin pie recipe, called “Tourte of Pumpkin,” came in a 1653 English cookbook. And contrary to popular belief, pumpkin pie was not a part of the first Thanksgiving. They weren’t even a popular staple at American Thanksgivings until the later 19th century. But, pumpkin weren’t absent from those early celebrations – instead of a “pie,” the pumpkins would be hollowed out, filled with milk, honey and spices and then baked over an open fire.


A little surprising – thought not to the nut lovers at Kern’s Kitchen – is that when asked what their favorite Thanksgiving pie was, two-thirds of Americans said that they prefer pecan pie to pumpkin pie!


There are several claims as to who invented the pecan pie, but it’s fairly certain that it is an all-American recipe. After settling in Louisiana, the French claimed to have invented the confection, though there is little factual information to back this up. Archaeology shows that Native American’s used pecans as far back as 8,000 years ago, and the first published recipes can be found in late-1800’s Texas cookbooks. The first printed recipe that resembles what we think of today as pecan pie was from an 1898 church cookbook out of Missouri, but that recipe was submitted by – you guessed it – a Texas woman! The biggest surge in popularity came in the 1920s when Karo corn syrup began printing pecan pie recipes on their package labels, and to this day, most recipes follow the steps and ingredients laid out by Karo.


Whether you choose pumpkin or pecan, a pie is a must for the holiday season. At Kern’s Kitchen, we make a Golden Pecan Pie that is sure to please everyone at your table. Or, maybe you’re trying to impress your guests or hosts – to try something new. Then may we suggest our famous Derby-Pie®? This decadent, festive, beloved pie is made from walnuts and – wait for it – chocolate. Trust us, you can never go wrong with a Derby-Pie®.


Interested in the history behind Kern’s Kitchen and our pies? Take a tour of our timeline! If you’re ready to buy and see for yourself why our pies are unlike any other, visit our online store – we ship all of our desserts! Or, use our location tool to find a restaurant or retail store near you.