The Secrets of Deviled Eggs — THE BITTER SOUTHERNER (2024)

If you’re wondering where the other six are, I already ate them.

It started on a Zoom reunion with high school friends about a month into quarantine, when one of my friends admitted to a sudden and persistent craving for deviled eggs. He’d never made them before, never even really liked them, but now, alone in an apartment in Boston, he couldn’t stop thinking about that creamy, tangy taste. As soon as he said it, the rest of us perked up. Had anything ever tasted better than a deviled egg? In our Southern childhoods, deviled eggs were the staple of every potluck, family reunion, and funeral — all the gatherings of celebration and grief now made impossible by the pandemic. We speculated that now, isolated indefinitely, we craved the taste of the community we couldn’t have.

Within a couple of days, we were texting each other photos of our deviled egg attempts, exchanging critiques and recipe tips, a sort of asynchronous potluck. Too much mayo. Where’s the paprika? If you’re wondering where the other six are, I already ate them.

Curious about what others were craving in quarantine, I conducted an informal poll on Facebook: friends were cooking holiday recipes out of season, carb-heavy comfort foods, and other potluck favorites. Among the Southerners who responded to my admittedly unscientific poll, deviled eggs were a clear favorite. Days after our Zoom call, my white friend’s Black co-teacher told her, unprompted, about the deviled eggs he’d served his family the night before. “Do white people eat deviled eggs too?” he asked.

Deviled eggs were part of the landscape of my upbringing, as benign and reliable as bread. But now, I began to wonder: if the pandemic is a kind of pressure cooker on both personal and societal levels clarifying values, bringing out hidden longings, suppressed rages, and quiet joys, and exacerbating global injustices — what can we learn about ourselves from what we’re craving in crisis? Where do deviled eggs come from and what do they mean? What do we find in the apparently benign?

I wanted to understand more about the role of early food memories in times of crisis, so I reached out to Susan Whitbourne, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She explained early food memories are located in this nexus in the brain between emotions and smell and taste and memory. They’re powerful because they engage all five senses and are contextually linked to emotionally-rich memories of family, tradition, and ritual. Food memories are subcortical, meaning they are primitive, nonverbal, nonlogical memories that can be provoked by stress. So it makes sense, Whitbourne said, that in this time of upheaval, we should find ourselves craving comfort foods before we can articulate why.

A collection of oral histories about deviled eggs, gathered at the 2004 Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, revealed the deep emotional pull of this ubiquitous comfort food. The collection demonstrates both the diversity and commonalities of deviled egg recipes, from insistence on brand-name mayo to more unusual ingredients like anchovies, cracker crumbs, and sour cream. What was nearly universal, though, was the intensity of memories surrounding the humble food. “Every time I make deviled eggs or hear about them, the door to the house of good memories and comfort foods opens once again. Not only can I see the food we had, but I can smell the water AND, the gas and oil,” recalls Linda Weiss, transported to the riverside picnics of her childhood. “Chill them and eat them and try to recall the first one you ever ate,” instructs Winston Hoy.

“I think it’s definitely one of the most evocative foods,” renowned Southern chef Scott Peaco*ck agrees over the phone. The deviled eggs of his Alabama Gulf Coast childhood featured sweet relish juice, mustard, Kraft Miracle Whip (“kind of a scar” on his childhood), and paprika (“the only time [it] came out of the cabinet.”) Today, he prefers the more elegant recipe he learned from his friend and mentor, the legendary queen of Southern cooking, Edna Lewis. Lewis blended her yolks smooth with heavy cream and added a touch of sugar. “Silky and suave,” says Peaco*ck, that egg “draws you in and has secrets to tell.” He served deviled eggs at Lewis’ memorial in 2006.

Cooking nostalgic foods, reflects Whitbourne, can be a way of “retracing your steps back to this earlier self of yours, rewinding time, as it were.”

The Secrets of Deviled Eggs — THE BITTER SOUTHERNER (2024)


What are deviled eggs called in the South? ›

At church functions in parts of the Southern and Midwestern United States, the terms "stuffed eggs", "salad eggs", and "dressed eggs" occur instead, to avoid reference to the word "devil". For this reason, the term "angel eggs" is also occasionally used.

What is the history of Southern deviled eggs? ›

Some believe that deviled eggs may have originated in ancient Rome, where eggs were often boiled and served with a spicy mustard sauce. Others think that deviled eggs may have originated in medieval Europe, where they were considered a luxurious and decadent snack.

What did the Romans call deviled eggs? ›

For National Deviled Egg Day, we're taking it back to Ancient Rome…. where serving deviled eggs was often referred to as “ab ova usque ad mala.”

Why do people put paprika on deviled eggs? ›

People put paprika on deviled eggs as a garnish for serving. A dusting of paprika contrasts nicely with the white and yellow of the egg for visual effect and it also adds a smoky, sweet flavor to the deviled egg.

What did Katy Perry call deviled eggs? ›

“I wasn't able to say I was lucky, because my mother would rather us say that we were blessed, and she also didn't like that lucky sounded like Lucifer,” she told Rolling Stone in 2010. “Deviled eggs were called 'angeled' eggs. I wasn't allowed to eat Lucky Charms, but I think that was the sugar.

What are church lady deviled eggs? ›

Each half of an egg is filled pretty high with a smooth and creamy egg yolk mixture. Each deviled egg is then topped with a piece of bacon, smoked paprika, and chives. It's definitely a rich appetizer, but it's so good.

What is a true deviled egg? ›

Deviled eggs are hard-boiled eggs that have been peeled, cut in half, then stuffed with a paste made from the yolk and other ingredients. Basic deviled egg filling is made with egg yolks, mayonnaise, relish, mustard, salt, and pepper. The eggs are often seasoned with spices like paprika or cayenne pepper.

What is a fun fact about deviled eggs? ›

If we rewind time, we find deviled eggs in ancient Rome, where boiled eggs flavored with spicy sauces were so commonly served as an appetizer that a Roman saying, “ab ovo usque ad mala,” meaning “from egg to apples,” referred to the expected bookends of a meal.

What is so devilish about deviled eggs? ›

"Deviled" goes back to the late 18th century as a way to refer to something that's spicy or grilled with spice. Deviled eggs are "deviled" because they're generally made with paprika and black pepper. We can also thank "deviled" for other mouth-watering dishes like deviled kidney and deviled bones.

What is a nickname for deviled eggs? ›

The term dates to the 19th century, and it was used to refer to foods that were spicy or zesty with the addition of mustard or pepper. In some regions of the South and the Midwest, deviled eggs are also called salad or dressed eggs when they are served at a church function, to avoid the term "deviled."

Are deviled eggs an American thing? ›

According to The History Channel, deviled eggs go all the way back to ancient Rome, where eggs were boiled, seasoned with spicy sauces, and then served at the beginning of meals. In the 13th century, stuffed eggs began to appear in the southern, Andalusian regions of Spain.

Why are deviled eggs so good? ›

Because deviled eggs are simply hard-cooked eggs in which the yolk is removed, mixed with mayonnaise and seasoning, and stuffed back into the halves of whites, they are easy to personalize. They are soft and creamy in texture, piquant in flavor, often a little sweet, and are a blank canvas when it comes to garnishing.

What seasoning makes eggs taste better? ›

Salt and Pepper

Specifically, salt suppresses bitter tastes to help bring out the eggs' natural taste, while pepper adds a pop of outside spice. You can switch up your eggs' flavor by using different types of pepper. While black and white pepper come from the same plant, they have slightly different tastes.

What seasoning does Gordon Ramsay use for eggs? ›

Return to heat stirring in crème fraiche. Remove from heat when eggs are clumpy, but soft. Season with freshly ground black pepper and garnish with a sprinkling of chopped chives.

Is it better to make deviled eggs day before or day of? ›

I like these deviled eggs best on the day they're made. If you're making them for a party or gathering, I don't recommend assembling them more than a few hours in advance. Store them in the fridge until you're ready to eat, and wait to add the garnishes until right before serving.

What country puts mustard on eggs? ›

with dill and these felt like deviled eggs...with a twist.

What are eggs fried on both sides called? ›

Sunny side up: The egg is fried with the yolk up and is not flipped. Over easy: The egg is flipped and the yolk is still runny. Over medium: The egg is flipped and the yolk is only slightly runny. Over well: The egg is flipped and the yolk is cooked hard.

Why are they called egg rolls? ›

Ever wonder… why these classic Chinese-American treats are called egg rolls? One possible explanation is that the dough traditionally used to make the wrapper calls for eggs. Even though recipes now often omit the egg, it's possible that the name stuck.

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