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[Flickr: WayTru]

Apples may get all the credit for being the "most American" of pies, but with pecans being the only tree nut native to North America, there's no reason we shouldn't all say "as American as pecan pie" now and again.

Native Americans were the first to actively cultivate pecans, and the word "pecan" actually comes from an Algonquin phrase to describe nuts that had to be cracked open with a hard stone.

Nobody knows when the first pecan pie was baked. Legend has it that in the early 1900s, the wife of a Karo syrup executive was testing some new ways to use her husband's product, and her mixture of corn syrup, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and pecans baked into a pie shell became the basis for the pecan pie we know today. Karo took the idea and ran with it, launching an ad campaign that shared her pecan pie recipe with the world. To this day, in some parts of the South pecan pie is still known as Karo pie.

The basic pecan pie recipe is pretty straightforward, but here are some ways you can change it up.

  • Add 1/3 cup of whiskey, bourbon, or dark rum
  • Add 2 tablespoons of grated ginger or orange zest
  • Add 1/2 cup of shredded coconut, semisweet chocolate chips, or golden raisins
  • Try preparing your pie shell with salted butter instead of sweet. The extra punch of salt provides a nice foil to the pie's sweet filling, and goes really well with the pecans nutty flavor.

Are you preparing pecan pie this holiday season? Does your favorite recipe have any unique ingredients?

About the author: Lee Zalben was a PB&J-loving kid that grew up to be the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., which began as a Greenwich Village sandwich shop serving nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and expanded to include the now-famous line of all natural flavored peanut butter. Lee is a graduate of Vassar College and enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting foods made with peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. When he's not working, eating, flying or writing, he enjoys scuba diving and training elephants.

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