A Devilish (as in Egg) History

It's summertime!


A time for graduation and summer vacation. When I go to a summer celebration marking the end of year, end of school, (anything really), there are always deviled eggs present. Celebrating indoors or outside, fancy or casual, this dish is a staple in American cuisine.


Such a staple made us curious. Where do deviled eggs come from and why are they called "deviled"?


History of a Stuffed Egg

13th-Century Spain

The earliest record of a “deviled”egg (a stuffed egg) was discovered in the 13th century in Andalucia, Ancient Rome. This would be Southern Spain today. While I don’t have that recipe to show you, I did find another Italian one from the 13th century! Oddly exciting. This has been translated by the lovely Sannie B of A Dollop of History. According to her research and adaptation of the recipe, Liber de Coquina, people enjoyed a fried spiced stuffed egg.


Looking at the recipe, I’ll tell you the short version. Make boiled eggs, remove the yolk, add in a RAW EGG, saffron, marjoram, and cloves. Mash this together, fill the empty egg whites with this mixture and fry yolk-side down until cooked through.


Just a tad different than how we serve them today. Similar recipes were seen in Medieval and Tudor eras with the yolk mixture bound together with butter. Basically, as soon as humans domesticated chickens and birds, we started to create stuffed egg dishes. Makes sense, they’re delightful.


From Stuffed to Deviled

According to, The Food Timeline, people had enjoyed stuffed eggs for a few hundred years before they became “deviled” in 18th century England. At this time “deviled” was a culinary term used to describe dishes that were heavily seasoned and spicy. Spicy foods were new and exciting at this time, while also more affordable than previously because of the expansion of the spice trade. I don’t want to make grand connections here, but it is interesting when you stop and think about the impact of language, technology, religion, and economy on a simple dish like a deviled egg.

Let’s leap forward and sail to the United States to continue this journey. How and when did the US begin to serve deviled eggs at every party?


Deviled Eggs and Mayonnaise

In order to speak of deviled eggs, we have to talk about mayonnaise. Stay with me, mayonnaise is important to the family recipe, although deviled eggs didn’t take off in households until the 1940s.


Records have found the first mention of making deviled eggs with mayonnaise in Annie Farmer's Boston Cooking-School Cookbook in 1896. In the 1920s, jarred mayonnaise became more available at local delicatessens and grocery stores.

If mayonnaise and recipes were available in the 1920s, why did it take another 20 years to become popular in US households? Well, people may have had other priorities with the Great Depression and World Wars. Can we make large leaps that perhaps these major events, and good advertising strategy contributed to substituting butter with mayonnaise in deviled egg recipes? That type of research would require a much lengthier article and recipe search. What we are sure of, when looking back at 1950s and 1960s recipes – mayonnaise was everywhere, and it was a party food.


Regional Styles

Getting into my time machine and jumping forward to present day, I have found 3 regional deviled egg styles that could be fun to taste side by side. I scoured the internet for deviled egg recipes, but with so much variety out there it is tough to nail down regional flavors. I’ve tried my best below, but would love to hear your family’s go-to recipe/mix-ins/toppings.

  1. Classic version -- Egg yolk is mixed with mustard, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and garnished with a sprinkle of paprika.

  2. Southern version -- Egg yolk is mixed with mustard, Dukes mayonnaise, sweet relish, salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of paprika. I read that Dukes is a must; it adds a good tanginess that balances the flavor.

  3. Midwest version -- Egg yolk is mixed with mustard, vinegar, sugar, garlic powder (optional), mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and garnished with chives. May be referred to as “dressed” or “angelic.”

Possible toppings are endless, for better or worse. If you are looking to make deviled eggs this month for your next social/family gathering. A recipe I recommend for boiling eggs comes from Kenji Alt’s youtube channel, Kenji’s Cooking Show, Perfect Boiled Eggs. For higher altitude you should boil the eggs for a few minutes longer than the recipe calls for.


Deviled eggs are a simple, approachable, affordable dish. So popular that most people can’t eat just one. What history has taught us is that you can serve these hot, cold, simple, spicy, and people will enjoy them.


Have no fear, go wild and experiment!


 

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