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Trilla Pando:

Stirring up memories


The deviled, you say
October 20, 2004

          Over in Oxford, Mississippi every year a bunch of folks get together to talk about food and the way we think about it, the way it affects us, the way it plays a part in our history and our heritage.  Naturally we always do a lot of tucking it away as well.  It’s one of my favorite outings of the year to go to one of my favorite organization’s home—the Southern Foodways Alliance.

          You’re familiar with it.  I proudly proclaim my membership at the end of every column, because we in the Alliance are all about stirring up memories.

          This year’s meeting was particularly touching—and touchy.  For almost parts of four days we discussed food, race and reconciliation.  Tough moments and some tender ones as we remembered and shared those hard times and good ones.   

          In this group especially, nothing enhances sharing moments better than food.  We ate, ate and ate.  Barbeque, fried chicken, grits and grillades—and especially deviled eggs.  Every year the Alliance has a recipe contest.  Last year it was pimiento cheese.  (I didn’t win that contest, but I’m in the recipe book.)  This year—deviled eggs.  Deviled eggs of every variety, with pickles and without, with capers and vinegar, lemon juice and you just name it.  (About 120 folks entered the competition, John T. Edge of the Southern Foodways Alliance speculated to me.  That’s lots of tasting, John T.!)

          We had a chance to sample the finalists at the fabulous Deviled Egg Degustation and Book Signing at Oxford’s Off Square Books.  We bought a lot of books and ate a lot of eggs.  For the crowd of hungry folks they figured on 500 eggs! 

One egg was almost better than the last one, but I got fascinated with the fixing.

What a monumental task—deviling 500 eggs.  Not just deviling, but also boiling and peeling them.  Melissa Hall (ably assisted by other volunteers) stepped right up and put on the pot.

          “Five hundred eggs!” I exclaimed.

          “Actually, a thousand,” Melissa countered.  She went on to explain that the grocery chain which procured the eggs did her, they thought, a special favor and found some really fresh eggs.  They didn’t mention this to Melissa.  She cooked up all 500 according to her fail-safe method.  Then the workers sat down to peel.  And in the words of Julia Child, they had 500 “nonpeelers.”  Eggs need to be at least a week old, Melissa explained, if they are going to peel easily.  So, she had a big problem on her hands.  Well, more than one.  About a thousand.  How to get rid of 500 eggs and locate 500 more.  Egg salad was not an option. 

          She offered the eggs around for quite a while before she found a taker.  You’ll be happy know the residents of the Lafayette County Jail ate well that week—lots of really fresh eggs. 

          Meanwhile, Melissa found more not-quite-so-fresh eggs and fired up the pans again.  Many of the entries specified a method of boiling eggs, but Melissa swears by hers, and she shared it with me. 

          Place the eggs in room-temperature water.  Bring them, uncovered, to a boil.  Once a boil is reached, immediately cover the eggs and turn off the heat.  Leave the eggs covered for 10 minutes and then drain.  Give the pan a hearty shake so that the egg shells crack, then immerse the eggs in cool water.  Change the water repeatedly until the eggs are completely cool.  They are now ready to peel. (Not to mention mash, season and stuff.  Don’t say devil to Melissa for a few days.)

          The second time was a charm.  The eggs were perfect and perfectly delicious.

All of the finalists were outstanding.  I don’t know how this hungry crew managed to get down all the fish at the fish fry that followed because they were eating deviled eggs with both hands.  Our favor was the recipe of Elizabeth Williams from New Orleans. Like most of us, her favorite deviled egg is the one her grandmother made.

            In her entry she explained how her grandmother assimilated the flavors of her birthplace, Sicily, into her American—and New Orleans—dishes.  She had trouble, Elizabeth explains, understanding the concept of deviling, so she referred to this treat as Devilish eggs.  They are still a family favorite, and I can understand that.  They are going to become a standard in our family.

Sicilian Devilish Eggs

12 eggs, hard boiled and peeled

3 anchovies, drained

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

3 tablespoons minced black olives

grated zest of one lemon

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Tabasco sauce

salt and pepper

smoked paprika, or minced basil or parsley for garnish

            Cut each egg in half. Remove yolks and place them in a bowl.  Add the anchovies.  With the back of a large spoon mash the anchovies and egg yolks together until the anchovies are fully incorporated.  Add the garlic, black olives and lemon zest.  Add the olive oil a little at a time and mix thoroughly, beating until the mixture is thick.  Add several drops of Tabasco or other hot sauce to taste.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Mix again.  Using a melon scoop, stuff the egg yolk mixture into the whites.  Sprinkle with minced basil or parsley or sprinkle with paprika.

If you want to see the abundance of ways good cooks can fix deviled eggs, pay a visit to the egg page at the Southern Foodways Alliance internet site.  You could keep a flock of chickens busy for weeks!  http://www.southernfoodways.com/projects/eggs/03nextgen.shtml.

Of course, you will still think your grandmother’s or mother’s are the very best and if you’d like to share her recipe, send it along.

Back to the Foodways Alliance.  We also had a “Fried Chicken Throw Down” with four chefs frying and serving their own specialties almost as fast as we could eat them.  It made me wonder who’s a really good chicken fryer around these parts.  If you are a fried chicken expert or know of one, I’d love to get a lesson.

Post-script:  Thanks to the Southern Foodways Alliance, John T. Edge, Mary Beth Lasseter and Melissa Hall for all they did and continue to do and for permission to use this recipe.

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network