Deviled Eggs: A Heavenly Dish.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are centered around helping my mom in the kitchen. She was a terrific cook whose dishes, although simple country fare, were always flavorful and extremely well deviled-eggs-3prepared. Among some of my favorite foods were those she made for holidays and other special occasions such as birthdays and church potluck dinners.

One such dish was her deviled eggs, the stuffing prepared with the yolk of hard-boiled eggs, a little mayo, prepared mustard, finely chopped sweet pickles, salt and pepper. After she spooned the stuffing back into the egg white cavities, they were lightly sprinkled with paprika and placed on a special plate used just for that dish. The fact they lasted only minutes after a meal started is testimony of how delicious they were.

As much as some folks would like to credit this dish to the American South, where they are a staple at just about any gathering, deviled eggs got their start in ancient Rome. Boiled eggs seasoned with spicy sauces were commonly served as the first course (referred to as the “gustatio”) of many of Rome’s wealthy patricians.

From Rome, the popularity of stuffed eggs continued and by the 13th century recipes started to appear in Andalusia, a region known today as Spain. An anonymous Andalusian cookbook, as translated by food historian, L.A. Times columnist, and expert in medieval Arab cuisine Charles Perry, includes this recipe for “The Making of Stuffed Eggs:”

Take as many eggs as you like, and boil them whole in hot water; put them in cold water and split them in half with a thread. Take the yolks aside and pound cilantro and put in onion juice, pepper and coriander, and beat all this together with murri, oil and salt and knead the yolks with this until it forms a dough. Then stuff the whites with this and fasten it together, insert a small stick into each egg, and sprinkle them with pepper, God willing.

deviled-eggBy the 1400s, stuffed egg recipes were commonplace in European cookbooks, and by the 1600s recipes for hard-boiled eggs, their white cavities refilled with yolks blended with all sorts of spices, mustards, and herbs were the norm.

So when did the name deviled egg come about? The first known written mention of “deviled” in the culinary sense appeared in Great Britain in 1786 in an article concerning “devil’d lamb kidney.” By the 19th century the term came to be used when referencing any hot or spicy foods, including eggs, ham, and seafood. It was during that same time period that stuffed eggs came to this country, and with them the term deviled eggs. However in some parts of the American South and Midwest, many religious organizations prefer using the terms “dressed eggs,” “salad eggs,” or “angel eggs” in order to avoid any reference to Satan.

The first printed recipe to suggest using mayonnaise as the binder for deviled egg filling appeared in Fannie Farmer’s 1896 edition of the Boston Cooking School Cookbook, though commercially made mayonnaise was not available until 1907. In fact, it was not until the 1940s that store bought mayonnaise became part of the classic American deviled egg recipe. Today, most families would not think of making deviled eggs without mayonnaise.

Most countries throughout Europe have at least one variation of the deviled egg, although sometimes known by different names. For example, France, Belgium, and Germany serve a version called “Russian eggs,” not because they are of Russian origin, but because they are served on a bed of macédoine (Russian salad) and garnished with caviar. In Sweden, the yolk of their deviled eggs is mixed with caviar, sour cream, chopped red onion, and garnished with anchovy or pickled herring, and they are served as a traditional Easter Smörgåsbord dish.

deviled-eggsWhile the basic recipe for “classic” deviled eggs has not changed in this country for over seventy-five years, you will find that every family seems to have their own, albeit slight, variation. Some may use prepared mustard while others may prefer Dijon; some more mayo or less mayo; some pickle relish or, like my mom, finely chopped sweet Jerkins. And with today’s professional and celebrity chefs all trying to outdo one another, there seems to be no limit on filling variations.

But whether you prefer the classic mayonnaise, mustard and paprika filling, or a designer version with kimchi and sriracha, one thing is for sure, the incredible edible egg when deviled is a dish made in heaven.

Make Em: Sugar’s Deviled Eggs

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The Spear or The Chip?

I was out with some friends at a popular fast casual chain restaurant that had just opened in Dallas when I first saw them on the appetizer menu–fried pickles.

“FRIED PICKLES! Who the hell ever heard of fried pickles?”

“You gotta try them,” one member of the group said. “They’re great!”

fried-dill-picklesSo being a curious sort, especially when it comes to food, I had to try them for myself. When the dish arrived at our table, I must say they looked good–somewhat like fat French fries. Now maybe it was just a mental block, since in my mind the whole idea of breading and frying pickles was kinda crazy, but I was not too impressed. That was in the early 1970s, and it would be some ten years later before fried pickles and I would once again cross paths, this time with a much better reception.

The first known recipe for fried pickles appeared in the Oakland Tribune on November 19, 1962. That recipe, French Fried Pickles, called for using sweet pickle slices dipped in pancake mix and deep fried.

fatman-austins-fried-picklesLike many of our foods, the origin of fried pickles remains a mystery, and the person responsible for popularizing the dish is surrounded in controversy. In April 1960, Bernell Austin (aka “Fatman”) opened the Duchess Drive-In Restaurant on a leased parcel of land in Atkins, Arkansas, across U.S. Highway 64 from the Atkins Pickle Company. In search of a gimmick to help attract more business, and after staring at the pickle factory every day, Fatman came across the idea of fried pickles.

After spending the next several months developing a recipe that was his own, Fatman began selling breaded and deep-fried dill pickle spears–fifteen spears for fifteen cents. Before long, The Duchess Drive-In’s fried pickles became well known for miles around the tiny restaurant. And while others tried to copy Austin’s idea with various degrees of success, none were able to duplicate his breading recipe, one that remains a family secret even today.

In 1968, the state of Arkansas opened Interstate 40 through Atkins bypassing The Duchess. This resulted in a drop in business, so Fatman opened a second drive-in restaurant near the new thru-fare to take advantage of its heavy traffic. The new restaurant, named The Loner, quickly became a popular stopping place for both locals and interstate travelers alike.

Fatman sold The Loner in 1978, retiring from the food business. Following his death in 1999, the Austin family continues to keep his memory alive by serving Fatman’s Original Fried Dill Pickles at the annual two-day Picklefest held in May in downtown Atkins, with the profits going to charities Fatman had supported through the Masonic Lodge.

hollywoods-fried-picklesMississippi also claims credit for commercializing the fried pickle. Tate Seldon’s Hollywood Café, originally located in Hollywood, Mississippi, began serving fried pickles in 1970. After a request from one of its customers, Seldon dredged crosscut dill pickle chips first through an egg and milk wash, then a mixture of flour, cayenne, chili powder and salt, and deep fried them to a delicious golden brown.

In 1983 after Seldon’s restaurant burned down, he relocated his cafe to a quaint 1922 commissary building in Robinsonville (also known as Tunica Resorts), a community just six miles north of the original location on U.S. Highway 61. Here, Hollywood Cafe continues to serve its popular fried dill pickle chips to hundreds of folks every month.

deep-fried-pickle-spearsToday fried pickles can be found throughout the U.S. but are especially popular in the American South where they’re frequently served with a side of ranch or bleu cheese dressing, ketchup, or other dipping sauce. While any type of pickle can be used, dill pickles (not Kosher) seem to be the most popular in terms of taste, though many people say spears have the greater visual appeal. Whether to bread them or batter them is another subject of debate. In fact, about the only thing people seem to agree on is that the pickles, whether spears or chips, should be cut to a thickness of 1/4-inch and cooked while cold.

So whether it’s spears or chips, fried dill pickles are an absolute must try.

Try Em: Cock of the Walk Restaurant, Natchez, Mississippi; Hollywood Cafe, Robinsonville, MS; Laurie’s Place, Edwardsville, IL

Make Em: French Fried Pickle Slices; Hollywood Cafe Fried Dill Pickles