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No Devil in the Deviled Egg

Yes, even deviled eggs have a history. It was common to serve deviled eggs at cocktail parties and picnics in post-WW II America. However deviled eggs didn’t originate in the U.S. The very beginnings go back to ancient Rome, where eggs were boiled, seasoned with spicy sauces and served as a first course known as gustatio by wealthy patricians.

Boiled eggs were traditionally seasoned with oil, wine or broth and served with pepper and laser (which was also known as silphium, a plant driven to extinction by the first century A.D.). Another recipe called for poached eggs to be dressed with soaked pine nuts, lovage (an herb of the parsley family with an anise, celery flavor), pepper, honey, vinegar, and broth.

Around the 13th century, stuffed eggs began to appear in Andalusia, Spain. Boiled egg yolks were mixed with cilantro, onion juice, pepper and coriander and then beat them with murri (a sauce made of fermented barley or fish), oil and salt. Once the egg whites were filled the two halves were fastened together.

By the 15th century, stuffed eggs were popular in Europe. Medieval cookbooks contain recipes for boiled eggs that were often filled with raisins, cheese and herbs such as marjoram, parsley and mint and then fried in oil and either topped with a sauce of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and raisins with verjuice (a tart juice made from unripe fruits) or powdered with sugar and served hot. When the mid-19th century rolled around stuffed eggs had made their way in U.S. cookbooks.

Devil” as a culinary term appeared in Great Britain in 1786 that at the time referred to hot ingredients or dishes that were highly seasoned. But in some parts of the world, the popular egg hors d’oeuvres were referred to in many different ways including stuffed eggs so as not to have to use the reference to the “devil” especially when served at church functions.

A recipe from Fannie Farmer in a cookbook from 1896 was one of the earliest to suggest the use of mayonnaise as a binder for the filling. However, it was not found as an ingredient in most deviled egg recipes in the U.S. until the 1940s. The classic version of deviled eggs is now widely considered to include a mixture of mayonnaise, mustard, and paprika, but professional chefs and home cooks have many of their own versions.

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