Saturday, June 11, 2011

Deviled Eggs

Carol from Port of Old Mission asked what deviled eggs have to do with the Devil. On air, having taken a quick look at the online Oxford English Dictionary, I hazarded a guess that it might be connected to the verb to devil, meaning tearing rags to pieces by means of a machine called a devil. That could reflect chopping and mincing the ingredients. There actually was such a device, but that explanation was way off target.

Another definition in the OED is more germane. Devil also meant to grill with hot condiments. An example from the 1801 Oracle in The Spirit of Public Journals (IV. 253) reads, “At half past two [I] ate a devil'd kidney.”

According to the Oxford Companion to Food, devil as a cooking term first appeared in the early 19th century. Before refrigeration became common, one method of preserving food involved using hot spices. Deviling referred to foods made hot by mustard, cayenne peppers, or vinegar. The connection between extreme heat and the Devil and the fires of hell is obvious.

In our day, the first thing that comes to mind when you say deviled eggs is a very large jar of mayonnaise. However, the earliest American recipes for deviled eggs did not use mayonnaise. An 1882 cookbook named Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery, calls for hard boiled eggs, unsalted butter, white vinegar, mustard powder, cayenne pepper, kosher salt, black pepper, sugar, and watercress.

NOTE: Words to the Wise received a favorable review in Andrea McDougal’s Word Nerds Rejoice: Top 25 Blogs For Editing Geeks.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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