Egg-cellent deviled eggs

A history of deviled eggs

Story BY Kim Domick
Photos by Ed Keller

Although Nov. 2 is National Deviled Egg Day, spring is the time of re-birth and awakening of Mother Nature, and nothing says “just hatched” like an egg…especially if it is boiled, scooped, mashed and stuffed with delightful savories. The Deviled Egg. What a delight a truly perfect one is. It all starts with one good egg.

Cooked stuffed eggs have been eaten forever. In the 61 A.D. book “Satyricon” by Petronius, a wealthy man gives a banquet which includes small songbirds marinated in peppered egg yolk and stuffed into peahen eggs. Wealthy ancient Romans were boiling eggs with spicy sauces and serving them as a gustatio. So popular was this first course, that Romans had a saying, “abova usque as mala, meaning from eggs to apples. (Referencing the beginning of the meal to the end)
During the 13th Century, historical records tell of Spanish cooks from Andalusia preparing boiled eggs, and mixing the yolks with cilantro, onion juice, pepper, coriander, oil and salt, and stuffing them into the hollowed whites. The two halves were fastened together with a small stick, garnished with black pepper and served as tapas.

In 15th century Europe, eggs were being filled with a myriad of ingredients, including raisins, cheese, marjoram, and parsley, and fried in oil. They were then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and served warm.

The first known printed reference to “deviled” was in 1786 in Great Britain. The term came to mean a spicy or zesty food, such as those prepared with mustard, pepper and piquant sauces. Some food historians say to render something deviled is clearly a religious metaphor likening the spiciness of the food to the scorching heat of hell. Some churches forbade the use of this term at parish events for reasons of blaspheme. This led to other names, such as stuffed eggs, dressed eggs, mimosa eggs, Russian eggs and salad eggs.

Fanny Farmer’s 1896 “Boston Cooking School Cookbook had the first American print version of a deviled egg with mayonnaise. Although mayonnaise was commercially available in the early 1900’s, it was not until the post WWII days of America deviled eggs became a must-have at picnics and parties, and their popularity soared. At that time, almost every deviled egg recipe called for mayonnaise.

Most people might be able to describe a deviled egg simply by saying you boil it, scoop and mash the yolk and stuff it back into its shell, but there is oh so much more to a perfect deviled egg, and the subtleties are endless. Almost every time you taste one, it will have a distinct flavor. Often families have a signature recipe that they pass on from generation to generation. When eating one, you can try to play the guessing game to identify just what is special about this one. Is it dill pickles? Is it Dijon and chives? Is it sweet pickles and Miracle Whip (gasp)? Is it Worcestershire sauce? Horseradish? Vinegar? Chile powder? The list goes on and on. You will find recipes that call for the addition of crabmeat, bacon, smoked salmon, and caviar, and all of these pair beautifully, but if I am making a deviled egg for myself, I always go for finely minced onion, a dash of powdered mustard, salt, pepper and Hellman’s mayonnaise, period. Simplicity at its best.

Below you will find a full-proof recipe for boiling the perfect egg, sans green-tinged rim around the yolk, (This is due to either overcooking, or a high iron content in the cooking water. This can be avoided using the proper cooking time and temperature and rapid cooling.) as well as some delicious variations on the classic deviled egg. But you may be asking yourself what should I serve them on? Well, a special deviled egg plate of course.

In the late 1930’s-1940’s, deviled eggs were so popular, special trays to carry and display them were being designed. These beautiful plates were first made from depression glass in many patterns by companies such as Duncan and Miller Glass Co., Anchor Hocking, Fenton, Fire King, and Hazel Atlas. Later, pottery makers were creating stoneware and porcelain dishes, and including whimsical chicken or hens on the plates. Throughout the 50’s and 60’s, you could often purchase a deviled egg plate in your china pattern from makers such as Spode and Lenox. Southern cookbook author Susan Weigl said, “No other Southern food, not barbecue, not even fried chicken, elevates the dish upon which it is served…but the deviled egg does”. Another Southern writer, Maryln Schwartz said that you could “define a whole class of women by whether they make their deviled eggs with mayonnaise, and whether they own a plate to serve them on.” Apparently a “true lady” did not just throw their eggs on any old plate, but instead had hers handed down by grand mama. If you are not lucky enough to have been handed down a vintage deviled dish, fear not. They can be found in antique stores (I just bought another one at Norm Sauer’s Antique store yesterday), garage sales, flea markets and on line. eBay has an amazing array of collectable plates for sale. Fiesta Ware now adds egg plates to each new dish set color it introduces. You can also find many companies that produce plastic products that not only hold each egg, but have lids for easy transport. (I still have a nifty Tupperware one from the late 1960’s if you need to borrow one.)

So, in the spirit of 61A.D, you could either gather a flock of songbirds and mash yolks into peahens, or just grab a jar of mayonnaise, some Farmer’s Market eggs, and start stuffing. Fill them with anything you like…some may call you blasphemous, but just so you serve them on a proper plate, you can tell them in a ladylike voice, “the deviled egg made me do it.”

The Perfect Hard-boiled egg
Place 12 room temperature eggs in a single layer, into the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot. Fill with enough cold water to cover the eggs by 1-inch. Heat the pan uncovered over medium high heat until the water comes to a boil. Remove from heat, and cover, and let sit for 9 minutes for a medium sized egg, 12 minutes for a large egg, or 15 minutes for an extra-large egg. Drain immediately, and place in a colander. Run ice cold water over the eggs until they are cold. Crack and peel the eggs under cold running water for easier peeling.

Basic Deviled Egg Recipe
Use the above method for boiling eggs. Slice hardboiled eggs either lengthwise or widthwise and gently scoop out the yolks into a bowl with a small spoon. Set the whites aside. Mash the yolks with a fork. For 12 eggs, add:
6 tbsp. mayonnaise, 1 tsp. dry mustard, 2 tbsp. finely minced sweet white onion, salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, and scoop or pipe back into egg whites.

Lovely Deviled Egg Additions
Smoked Salmon: Reduce mayonnaise to 3 tbsp. and add 3 tbsp. softened butter, 3 Oz. chopped smoked salmon, 1 tbsp. finely minced onion, 1 tsp. minced dill, 1 tsp. lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Other great items to add to the basic recipe: 2 tbsp. of any of the following: minced dill or sweet pickles, minced cooked bacon, minced capers, minced green or black olives, minced pimentos, softened minced sundried tomatoes, avocado, or minced jalapeno peppers.
Add 1-2 tsp. of: any fresh herb, prepared horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, grainy mustard, or Dijon.