By some reports hard boiled eggs were being stuffed with spices, pine nuts, celery, and vinegar in ancient Rome. Medieval cookbooks feature eggs stuffed with ingredients like raisins, goat cheese, mint, cloves and cinnamon.
The term “deviled,” in reference to food, was in use in the 18th century and, by the 19th century, it referred to foods with highly spiced ingredients. For eggs, that meant stuffings spiced with mustard, cayenne pepper, hot sauce or other zesty flavorings.
According to Jennifer Brennan in her memoir of the British Raj in India, Curries and Bugles, “this conspicuous consumption of spices catered to the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian gentry’s lust for the piquant and tangy (and they possessed the deep pockets that could afford the indulgence), but there was also a practical side. It seems that ‘devils’ were most efficient in helping a delicate constitution recover from the after-effects of an over-indulgence of drink. In short, they were splendid for hangovers.”
An Englishman named William Underwood made “deviled,” as a description for food, common parlance in the United States. He opened a small condiment business on Boston’s Russia Wharf in 1822. By 1868, his sons were experimenting with a new product that mixed ground ham with a secret blend of seasonings. They offered a new line of highly seasoned meat products, including ham, turkey, chicken, lobster and tongue, and they described the seasoning process as “deviling.” A red devil became their trademark. Underwood’s deviling process was granted a United States patent in 1870, and it remains the oldest existing food trademark still in use in the United States. Their deviling recipe remains a company secret.
Stuffed eggs are popular throughout Europe: In France, they are called oeuf mimosa, in Hungary toltott tojas, in Romania oua umplute, in the Netherlands gevuld ei, and in Sweden fyllda agg, all of which mean “stuffed egg.” Usually served cold, stuffed eggs are often an appetizer, but sometimes they are a side dish or even a main course. They are frequent holiday or party food. In Sweden, stuffed eggs are a traditional dish on the Easter Smorgasbord, and they also contribute to American Independence Day barbecues. In Southern and Midwestern parts of the United States, where deviled eggs appear at numerous church socials, they may be called “salad eggs” or “dressed eggs,” to avoid giving the devil any due.