2004 Deviled Egg Recipe Competition – The Legend, The Lore | Southern Foodways Alliance arrow left envelope headphones search facebook instagram twitter flickr menu rss play circle itunes calendar

Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to annemarie@southernfoodways.org.


2004 Deviled Egg Recipe Competition – The Legend, The Lore

Margaret McArthur Rovai, “Deviled Eggs”

He’s diabolical at:
Your Selma reunion
A picnic from the battered cooler
A Chicago dive

Mephisto jeers
At leftover sashimi.
His dimpled platter’s naked
before the second bottle’s broached

A vet and his great-grandson
Snarfed sixteen
at the Scotch and Similac hour
Twelve teeth between them.

A Birmingham bride
soils her satin under the magnolias
even the vegans
absolve her

The fluttering
when he crashed a baby shower
morphed into darling devilled eggs
bonneted with pink nasturtiums

But they were never so Southern:
on the vegetable platter
at the Raleigh Market

Mac and cheese, okra and
Deviled Eggs —
His most subversive self.
So much sexier than spinach!

Jim Fergusson

This brings back fond memories. When I was growing up in Starkville, we laughingly called them “degs.” Why? Because of my mistaken understanding of the name which I heard as Devil Degs. So when my Dad wanted Mom to fix up a plate for a Sunday afternoon snack, he would say to my Mom, “Why don’t you make a plate of degs for this afternoon?”

I wonder how many other kids thought they were Devil Degs? Of course for years I thought you had a glass of “Oranjuice” with your breakfast! I never made the honor role.

Richard A. Brooks

Some maintain that memory is best triggered by sense of smell. But deviled eggs are more than nose deep. They live forever in the sinus cavity.

Deviled eggs go down with surreptitious ease, smooth and creamy, deceptively innocuous with all that hard-boiled whiteness topped by a relatively small dollop of yellow yolk and mysterious, secret flavorings. That touch of tang on the back of the tongue so subtle it begets another foray to the henhouse.

The designated “henhouse” is one of the weathered picnic tables standing sentinel beside every church bordered by red hills and cotton, nailed together from untreated yellow pine by the mill-gnarled hands of would-be deacons. Patched and threadbare cotton sheets cover grooves carved by hopeful young lovers: WJB (heart) MAM. Holding down the tablecloth against the slightest, and otherwise welcome, zephyr are serving platters. But not just any plate will do. There is a Dixie cottage industry of deviled egg servers. Most are round. Other models might be square, rectangular, oval or — cleverly — egg shaped. All include indentations designed to keep Aunt Lunette’s creations upright in the bed of a pickup truck and chilled until after the sermon.

Deviled eggs are eaten first — an appetizer of sorts — less from fear of microbes than the understanding that damn soon there won’t be any left. The matron types will hover over the table, paper plate balanced delicately on the left hand, and painstakingly select one or two. “Who made this one?” they’ll ask. “That one looks delicious.” Gentlemen of a certain age also balance plates on their left hands but they’re not so particular. They take one of each and retire to a shade tree.

Young men and boys dart in and out of the henhouse between their elders, taking one egg at a time but many quickly. The eggs are inhaled, unappreciated, leaving only a russet cheek-smear of paprika — or tarragon, perhaps. But deviled eggs don’t go so gently into the night. Deviled eggs reappear during the fried chicken course, or maybe a little later, during internal debate over the merits of Jello laced with cottage cheese and diced fruit versus candied yams glazed in brown sugar topped with melted marshmallows. Having almost made it to the upper intestinal tract, a bilious gas rises, bloating the stomach, bubbling past more stable elements like corn gnawed from the cob and snap beans boiled with fatback, gaining momentum in the constricted esophagus, yearning to erupt as a glorious belch that will surely earn a cuff from the nearest adult relative, stifled just in time with a hand over the mouth ….And diverted with eye-popping alacrity into the sinuses, where unnamed exotic red spices are burned into memory forever.

Pam Lawrenz

One year we were invited to a St. Patrick’s Day Party in our neighborhood. The hosts were true Irish folk and really wanted a theme to run through the day. The hostess told us we could bring anything to eat but it must be Irish. So, I made a really good deviled egg recipe. I simply colored my egg mixture (which is normally nice and yellow) green. They looked so gross you couldn’t believe! But, not a one of them lasted longer than a few minutes as all the people snatched them up. There were folks from many different countries in attendance at the party and they all commented about never before eating green deviled eggs!

Janis Patterson

“Where’s the deviled eggs?”

Universal accompaniment to any meal- holiday, everyday, simple or elegant. In our family, deviled eggs are the mainstay of meals. Young or inexperienced cooks are assigned deviled eggs for all family gatherings. There are several reasons for this. Novice or non-cooks usually have the necessary ingredients. Deviled eggs are hard to ruin, but, not impossible. Unless the eggs are raw or undercooked, they are delicious with any number of ingredients included or omitted. Success at deviled eggs encourages our “babies” to try other family recipes. If not, deviled eggs are always a hit!

Don’t even get us started on our deviled egg plates!


I ran fast and furious from deviled eggs anytime they appeared at a holiday meal or family gathering. All through my youth and young adulthood, I found a hard boiled egg and all of its derivatives to be one of the most abhorent things created on the face of the earth. As a child I had to boil eggs once or twice a week for my mother’s lunch. The smell of the boiling eggs made me gag. No love here. Sorry. No receipts either. Ciao.

Jen Stein

When looking through my grandmother’s cookbook for a deviled egg recipe, I came across this cooking tip:

If you are preparing hard boiled eggs to be made into deviled eggs or eggs that will be sliced and arranged around a dish, you will want the yolks to be in the middle of the egg. When you start to boil the water, gently stir so the eggs swirl lightly and will “stand” a bit in the water, which centers the yolks. I like the method of placing the eggs in a pan, running hot water over them so they warm up gently, setting the pot on the stove on high until the water boils, turn off the heat and let sit covered for 20 minutes; then run under cold water and peel right away. Anyways, I tried the swirling trick & it worked for 4 out of 5 of the eggs.

Janice Nieder

My Mother’s Deviled Eggs….or Why None of The Other Kids Would Trade Lunches With Me!

My mother was a “health nut” way before “health” was a way of life, a marketing niche, or in any way remotely fashionable. To add insult to injury she was at best, a very mediocre-though highly imaginative (often with nightmarish results) cook. One of her favorite brown-bag school lunches which she would embarrass us with at least once a week, was her Deviled Eggs.

Now I have nothing against normal deviled eggs, but by the time she finished adding her “healthy touches,” the offending smell alone would insure that NO ONE would sit next to me at lunch, let alone give me any chance of trading for even a plebian PB & J sandwich.

“Healthy” Deviled Eggs

    • 4 hardboiled eggs
    • 4 T Miracle Whip (less fat than Mayo)
    • Salt substitute and Pepper to taste
    • 1 Shredded carrot (unpeeled for more vitamins-ugh)
    • 2 shredded radishes


    • 1 T. Wheat Germ (she mistakenly thought this added a pleasant crunch)

Remove yolk from egg whites. Place in mixing bowl then fold in the rest of the ingredients. Stuff back into egg whites. Sprinkle on wheat germ. Serve with Brown Bread spread with margarine.

Note: She got very clever in packing these up in saran wrap lined cut up cardboard egg cartons, so they wouldn’t squish.

The Taste of Summer: Deviled Eggs, Angelic Eating
originally printed in The Austin Chronicle

Not too long ago, I attended a potluck buffet where, as is my habit, my contribution was a big platter of deviled eggs. I learned long ago that this humble staple of church covered-dish suppers, family reunions, and summer picnics is an infallible winner at any social gathering, be it ultrahip or down-home wholesome. Except for those unfortunate die-hard egg-haters, my experience is that everyone loves a deviled egg or six.

Clearly, it isn’t only that these piquant little mouthfuls taste incredibly good, or that they are inexpensive, pretty easy to prepare, and ultimately transportable, but somehow — I don’t know why, exactly — they seem to be iconographic sustenance to an awful lot of people from a panoply of backgrounds. Deviled eggs just resonate, tuning in to memories of happy taste buds and pleasant occasions.

Even during that benighted period of the Eighties and Nineties, when fat was all bad and eggs were anathema, I was always secretly amused to observe that even the most body-conscious among us gravitated to the plate of deviled eggs like flies to a honey pot. “Omigod, Buffy, eggs are just soooo bad for you, and I never eat them, but, well, maybe just one …” Praises be that the food-fashion tide has turned, the egg has regained its nutritional reputation, and we can again indulge both our taste buds and our food memories with guilt-free aplomb.

This last party was no exception. One of the guests, with tears sparkling in her eyes and a deviled egg in each hand, recalled her infirm grandmother sitting in the kitchen, gesticulating imperiously with her cane as she directed whomever was making the eggs exactly how they must be done. Between bites, my friend waxed nostalgic about the heirloom egg plates she’d inherited from said grandmother, and how she planned to pass them on to her young nieces, along with the sacred family recipe.

According to the Food Timeline (a wonderful online resource for food history), some variation of hard-cooked eggs—the whites halved to form little delivery vehicles for a yolk mixture blended with condiments—has been with us since ancient Rome. The culinary term “deviled” developed in the 18th and 19th centuries to denote something prepared with such piquant seasonings as cayenne and mustard. (Deviled kidneys were a popular British dish, and don’t forget the little cans of Underwood Deviled Ham. Just FYI, the Underwood red devil is reputed to be the oldest food logo still used in the U.S.)
Over the decades and in various regions of the country, the term “deviled eggs” has come to include what are technically stuffed eggs, whose yolks are mashed up with flavorings that are not necessarily spicy. Everyone has a special blend, but mayonnaise, vinegar, and pickle relish seem to be almost universal. My own family’s Gulf Coast formula includes a sweet relish, a touch of sugar, and plenty of French’s mustard (makes for a vibrantly yellow mixture) finished with a generous sprinkling of spicy red paprika on top (quite eye-catching in conjunction with the yellow filling and white yolks).

While I still like the family version, I confess to straying from tradition at times, successfully experimenting with such condiments as dill, cilantro, chives, yogurt, crème fraîche, and minced capers, and someone was telling me recently about enjoying deviled eggs perfumed with truffle oil (in New York, of course). I’ve also heard of deviled eggs sprinkled with caviar, and that sounds pretty good, too. Maybe on my birthday…

Remember what I’m telling you the next time you’re called upon to bring a dish to a social occasion. Just don’t overcook the eggs (they get rubbery) and don’t forget to keep them chilled. You will be continuing a fine American tradition, your friends will thank you for it, and you’ll always bring home an empty plate. And if you don’t get around to it this summer, November 2 is National Deviled Egg Day.

Other Project Interviews



The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


Alex Raij Txikito

Let’s Stay in Touch

Sign up for the SFA newsletter to have the latest content
delivered directly to your inbox.