A Brief History of Spicy Food
Deviled eggs are as familiar to most Americans as apple pie. Certainly, they have been a staple at picnics and family dinners for decades. During the week following Easter, due to a surplus of hard-boiled eggs, deviled eggs are almost a requirement in many households.
But how did deviled eggs come about and where did they get their curious name?
Eggs, of course, have been a source of food for thousands upon thousands of years. The mingling of spices with eggs clearly goes back as far as ancient Rome. Apicus (from whom we derive our modern word "epicurean") reports in his famous cookbook that "boiled eggs can be seasoned with pepper".
A recipe for stuffed eggs including mustard from around the 15th century is probably the first documented occurrence of something close enough to be recognizable as "deviled eggs". Almost certainly, some form of deviled eggs predated the 1700s.
Apparently, "deviling" had become quite popular in 18th-century Britain. In a biography published in 1791, James Boswell, Samuel Johnson's biographer, referred to partaking of a dish of "devilled bones" for supper.
Bones or carcasses of cold cooked poultry, game or beef were brushed or covered with one of several kinds of highly spiced "devil sauces", which were then grilled until brown on top. The similarity to our modern "barbecue" is unmistakable!
Without a doubt, the word "devil" was already well-established as a cooking term meaning "to cook something with hot spices or condiments, especially cayenne or mustard." Most believe that the term was adopted because of the connection between the devil and the excessive heat in Hell. This does not mean to suggest that "deviled" food is in any way Satanic.
By the 19th century, the use of "deviled" was well-known In America. In 1820, the author Washington Irving used the word to describe a highly seasoned dish similar to a curry.
One particularly familiar devilish dish, "deviled ham" as we now know it, first came about when the Underwood Company started experimenting with spiced ham recipes around 1868. Soon, they received a patent on their now-famous little red devil logo and began producing deviled ham in the familiar small cans. It quickly caught on and home cooks were soon making their own versions of the stuff.
Today the word "deviled" is commonly applied to any number of spicy dishes. The rest is history!