The Devil Made Me Do It
Author: Kitty Bartell
True story…the battle lines were drawn. A reunion was about to commence on a stony beach near the Gardner family’s summer cottage on Lake Michigan. It was July 4, 2006, and nearly 125 members of the family carried down picnic tables, baskets filled with food, tablecloths, utensils and plates, tubs filled with beverages, brown sacks filled with fireworks, and containers filled with what was to become the source of 10 years of sideways glances and sly grins. It was the Gardner family’s deviled egg competition. Last held in 1976, family matriarch, Mary Gardner said there were at least a dozen entries that year. “You have to be a blood relative to enter,” she explained.
Judging was done by a panel of in-laws, which may be where the trouble started. Let’s just say there is still debate over who won in 1976, and it took 30 years to muster the courage to do it again.
The creamy beauty of a perfectly executed deviled egg has its roots well-planted in the Midwest and Southern United States, with its history dating back to ancient Rome where they were served deconstructed, as the culinary elite would say today, with the various parts and accompaniments arranged alongside the egg white cup. First referenced in print in 1786, deviled eggs were, and still are, popular across Europe—commonly called stuffed eggs. However, it wasn’t until they arrived at church picnics in the Midwest, and social gatherings in the South that their acclaim was well established on this side of the pond.
It was around that 1786 date when stuffed eggs evolved into the deviled variety, referring to their zesty flavor. As spices from around the globe were being introduced to the New World, anything served on a plate or in a bowl that had some real flavor or spice was referred to as “deviled.”
Today, however, when attending a church picnic or potluck, you may find angel eggs—a change in their moniker so as not to associate the decadent mouthful with the devil himself. However, this term is not commonly found in more unholy settings.
Making deviled eggs is about the easiest thing next to boiling water. As a matter of fact, boiling water is where they all begin. My technique (I’m sure you have your own, or have been advised by many-an-expert) is to use only somewhat un-fresh eggs (ones that have been the refrigerator for about a week as their shells release much easier). Place them in a sauce pan, cover with water, bring to a boil, remove from the heat, cover, allow to sit for eight minutes, and peel under cool running water. Once the eggs have reached room temperature, sliced lengthwise, and the yolks removed, the real fun begins.
If you’re new to deviled eggs, welcome to the party. If you’re with me so far, you know the next step is smashing or mashing the yolks. I recommend pressing them through a fine sieve (nothing fancy needed here), rather than smashing with a fork (the method I grew up with). This keeps the yolks light and smooth, rather than tough and lumpy. My family’s recipe is really the purist’s approach; yolks combined with mayonnaise (it’s dealer’s choice here: Hellmann’s, Duke’s, Miracle Whip), and yellow mustard—all combined to taste, and spooned back into the egg white shells. I have since learned the miracle of the zip-top bag used as a piping bag; it’s much easier, cleaner, and produces a nearly professional-looking egg. While garnishes today range from dill to roe to crispy bacon, and more, my garnish has always been a sprinkling of paprika. As a 12-year-old I managed to ruin a batch of deviled eggs with a sprinkling of nutmeg…. It looks like paprika, right?
The evolution of the deviled egg has reached taste bud-exploding proportions across the map.
Visiting Nashville? Mason’s restaurant serves their award-winning The Devil of an Egg with bacon jam and mustard seed caviar. Headed to Atlanta? King+Duke has one of the top 10 eggs in the metro area (yes, there’s heady competition there, too), stuffed with crispy bacon, herbs, and extra virgin olive oil. From Cahill’s Market & Chicken Kitchen in Bluffton to Lucky Rooster Kitchen & Wine Bar on Hilton Head Island, deviled eggs are making the menus and elevating the oeuf experience from sea to shining sea. Google “deviled egg recipes,” and you will find 721,000 ways to take down the competition.
Still not certain who won in 2006 (Mary won’t say), the Gardners are gearing up for another round this Fourth of July, and the reunion T-shirts have already been designed—a sketch of their beloved cottage on the front, and a rather less-friendly egg on the back, sporting horns with a pitch-fork pierced through its heart. Game on.