Answer Man

July 21, 2014

How did the term 'deviled eggs' originate?

Answer Man

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Everyone loves my deviled eggs. How did the term "deviled eggs" originate, anyway? -- V. of Troy

Deviling foods has a helluva long and tasty history -- and we're not talking just about eggs.

More than two centuries ago, cooks were making things hot for their diners, and suddenly people began making the satanic culinary connection. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term first caught fire in 1786 when "devil" was used to describe a (highly seasoned) fried or boiled dish. About 15 years later came a reference to eating a "devil'd kidney."

You yourself may not fix five-alarm eggs, but you probably can understand the reasoning.

"Devil -- an (early 19th century) verb meaning to cook something with fiery hot spices or condiments," according to Alan Davidson's "Oxford Companion to Food." "The term was presumably adopted because of the connection between the devil and the excessive heat in Hell. James Boswell, Dr. (Samuel) Johnson's biographer, frequently refers to partaking of a dish of 'devilled bones.'"

This, too, was in the 1700s. Not surprisingly, "deviled" quickly leapt across the pond during the United States' infancy.

"By 1820, Washington Irving used the word in his 'Sketch Book' to describe a highly seasoned dish similar to a curry," according to John Mariani's "Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink." "Deviled dishes were very popular throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, especially for seafood preparations and some appetizers."

As a result, stuffed eggs, which apparently once featured raisins and other sweet herbs as early as Roman times, took on an underworld tang in the 1800s. And that was just the start. You're probably well aware of how Old Nick has helped the William Underwood Co. make a fortune with its flagship product that boasts a drawing of a devil and pitchfork on every can.

"Around 1868, Underwood's sons began experimenting with a new product created from ground ham blended with special seasonings," according to the company, which dates back to its 1822 opening in Boston. "The process they dubbed 'deviling,' for cooking and preparing the ham, was new. But, best of all, the taste was unique."

Not to be outdone, dessert makers soon began whipping up their own evil delights. In the 1880s, food writer Caroline King's mother was turning out a new cake that would turn the head of even the most discriminating Beelzebub.

"Devil's Food, though a new cake in our household, had made its dashing appearance in Chicago in the middle '80s, and by the time it reached our quiet little community, was quite the rage," she wrote.

The reason for the name is obvious. In contrast to the light, airy angel food cake, devil's food was a sinfully rich treat that presumably came with the added curse of adding to your waistline. Early versions had another characteristic to remind people of the netherworld.

"Originally it was red," according to longtime chef Linda Stradley. "This was thought to be due to a chemical reaction between early varieties of cocoa and baking soda, which also gave the cake a soapy taste. Today cooks, using modern processed cocoa, sometimes add a touch of red food coloring to bring back the authentic color."

For deviled egg and devil's-food cake recipes -- including King's mother's original -- go to www.foodtimeline.org. Click on the "Index" link and then click on "D."

Any chance of getting Mallard Fillmore in the BND comics? The Post used to carry it, but dropped it because it did not conform to their liberal agenda. It was hilarious, and I really miss it. -- Sandy

I'm not trying to duck your question, but the best I can say is editor Jeffry Couch promises to consider Mr. Fillmore if and when he rejiggers the comic page, but that likely won't happen until at least next year. Until then, you should get quacking and go to www.mallardfillmore.com.

For those unfamiliar, editorial cartoonist Bruce Tinsley created Mallard in 1991 as an entertainment page mascot for the Charlottesville, Va., Daily Progress. He then began sending out samples of "The Fillmore File," which was picked up by The Washington Times in 1992 and Kings Feature Syndicate in 1994. It now appears in about 400 papers.

Today's trivia

If your child told you he wanted to be a funambulist, would you be happy or alarmed?

Answer to Sunday's question: Even on St. Patrick's Day, you may never see a TV meteorologist wearing green on camera. Decades ago, those hippy, dippy weatherpeople stood in front of real maps with real numbers and real pictures of suns and storm clouds. Now, they stand in front of green screens because all of those graphics you see are computer- generated. If they wore green, the graphics would wind up on their clothes, making them really look like talking heads. KSDK's Cindy Preszler and her producer, Brandie Piper, even put on a demonstration this year on the station's web site.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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