A Culture of Food: Are Deviled Eggs the Sinner’s Snack?

I love food. I love experiencing new restaurants and even going to places that are known for quality items. I am also extremely intrigued by the names of foods. For instance: did they name the Green Goop dessert Watergate Salad after the United States political scandal from the early 1970s or was it made by somebody who lived near a gate by the water? I don’t know right now but I might want to look into that. 🙂 Many years ago I started one of my first investigatory blogs on who in the world General Tso was…and why the delicious Chinese food dish was named after him. There was a whirlwind of history that laid dormant in a dish whose history we overlooked so many times. This time I got to thinking about something after joking around with my wife as we prepared Thanksgiving dinner. I asked what was so evil about our deviled eggs and it truly made me wonder what was so evil about a simple boiled egg that had been shelled, cut it half, the egg yolk inside mixed with filled with some other ingredients, and then put back inside before bringing sprinkled with a little paprika.


Before deviled eggs (not to be confused with ‘Devil’s Eggs’ that the housed butterfly bombs that were dropped during World War II) became the de rigueur side dish of every Thanksgiving party, Christmas party or backyard barbecue; eggs have been a hors d’oeuvre of choice since ancient Rome. The Romans even had a saying when it came to their formal meals: “ab ova usque ad mala;” which is literally translated as ‘from eggs to apples’. The deviled egg had not quite taken its current culinary form; because at this point the wealthy had them boiled, spicily seasoned and had them served in a first course dish known as the gustatio. The gustatio was an egg dish whose main component was a pine nut sauce. The dish was created by soaking the pine nuts in vinegar over night and they were seasoned with salt, honey, and spiced up with pepper. The pine nuts would cook down with the seasoning until it came to a thickened sauce.


In 1st century AD, a collection of Roman recipes were compiled together and was called the Apicius. The title had been used to reference an excessive love of gastronomy for many years because of 1st century AD Roman lover of food, Marcus Gavious Apicius. The Apicius was meant to be the complete text to aid in the kitchen but the recipes were geared towards the wealthiest classes of people (and to be honest contain many exotic ingredients that many of us would not even dare think of eating; ie flamingo). The early printed versions of the book were called De re Coquinaria (which is translated as “On the subject of Cooking“). In the chapter entitled Aeropetes (Birds, Poultry), we find a recipe for boiled eggs where they were seasoned with olive oil, wine and/or broth, and served with pepper. It also instruction the addition of a now extinct herb called laser. (Laser which was derived from the Silphium plant and was driven to extinction from its overuse; The plant was so popular that it even appeared on Greek coins.)

Though we find this 1st century egg recipe to be very different from our modern deviled eggs; by the 13th we see stuffed eggs emerging in Andalusia (the land that is now known as Spain). In an anonymous cookbook from the 13th century, we see a recipe where the cook is instructed to pound boiled egg yolks with cilantro, onion juice, pepper and coriander. They then are instructed to take that mixture and combine it with murri (a sauce made of fermented barley or fish), oil and salt. After the mixture is completed, it is then stuffed into the hollowed egg whites. The two halves were then to be fastened together with a small stick and doused with pepper. Stuffed egg recipes continued to change over the years and recipes called for everything from mint, cinnamon, raisins to cheese.

320px-Perfectly_Boiled_eggs_pictureNow you’re probably still wondering when these seemingly docile recipes got the evil touch, so I’ll let you know. The first time that we find ‘devil’ as a culinary term, it was in Great Britain in 1786. It was in reference to dishes that included extremely hot ingredients or those that were highly seasoned and then broiled or fried. A couple of years later in 1800, ‘deviling’ was the verb used in the process of making food spicy. But we still haven’t gotten to a concrete ‘deviled egg’ recipe. Stuffed egg recipes made their way to the US and started popping up in cookbooks as early as the mid-19th century. Despite a deviled egg recipe popping up Fannie Farmer’s 1896 “Boston Cooking-School Cookbook” that used mayo as the main binding agent for the filling; the deviled egg’ recipe we know was not commonly featured until the 1940s. This is partially due to mayonnaise not being distributed commercially in the United States until 1907.


While the recipe is primarily a mixture of the boiled yolk, mayonnaise, yellow mustard, and paprika (also sprinkled on top); many versions are popping up with the addition of everything from pickled relish to caviar. So I guess the egg recipe really isn’t evil after all; but if you feel uncomfortable about the devil part…call them what you want, just make sure that you bring some to your next get together.

Boiled Eggs by Nithyasrm – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40916138

The Apicius manuscript (ca. 900 AD) of the monastery of Fulda in Germany, which was acquired in 1929 by the New York Academy of Medicine by Bonho1962 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5626800

Featured Image – Deviled Eggs by Marshall Astor from San Pedro, United States – Deviled Eggs – Inaugural Portable Potluck Project – 3-23-08, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8008946

Deviled Eggs and Black Truffles by Arnold Gatilao from Oakland, CA, USA – Deviled Eggs and Black Truffles, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40530158



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