Outside of hot dogs (45 seconds in the microwave on high), the first thing I remember learning to cook–if you can call mashing up some ingredients with mayonnaise–was deviled eggs. We lived in Kansas, but my parents, both born in the same small town in so-far-south-it’s-almost-Florida Georgia, were determined to raise me with a deep (and delicious) connection to my Southern heritage. We drank our tea sweet, ate our sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, and pronounced pecan “pee-can.” And I loved it all. But oh, I loved the deviled eggs extra.
You see, in my house growing up, deviled eggs weren’t just the favored fare of church picnics and block party barbeques. We had them on major holidays, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, right alongside all the other traditional dishes. I didn’t realize until I grew up and moved out of the house that they were not, in fact, part of the standard American family Thanksgiving menu. Why wouldn’t they be? They’re so perfect.
I don’t remember how old I was, exactly, when my mom decided it was time to teach me the hallowed recipe. I do, however, remember that I was thoroughly underwhelmed when it turned out that this food I loved to eat was so simple to make. Egg yolks, mayonnaise, pickle relish, a dash of mustard, and some salt and pepper? Srsly? I wanted this dish to be fancy! I mean, my ruffly apron made from an old pair of jeans with lace trim sewn to the edges was only gonna take me so far.
Disappointed or not, I was going to learn how to make deviled eggs, and I was going to do my damnedest not to wish that my mother hadn’t taken the mystery out of their magic by teaching me. You know what happens next. We boiled the eggs, and I stood there watching them knock around in the pot. We let them cool. We peeled them (under running cold water because Mama has tricks) and cut them in half long-ways, and we flipped the yolks into a separate dish. Then I asked my mom how much of each ingredient to put in, and she said something like, “Oh, I don’t know. There’s not actually a recipe for it…you just work on it until it tastes right.”
Excuse me, what? There are no specifications? HOW WILL I KNOW IF I’M DOING IT RIGHT? It was more than my ‘tween-aged rule-following over-achieving personality could handle. But if that’s how Mom did it, that’s how I was going to do it too. So I dolloped and squirted and stirred and tasted, and dolloped and squirted and stirred and tasted some more. And at some point, it tasted right. And it felt like I had pulled off a nice little trick, indeed.
I was thinking about all this earlier today, as I stood in my kitchen making myself deviled eggs for no reason at all other than it’s a gorgeous sunny day and my weirdo husband who hates mayonnaise and hates deviled eggs even more (“They’re just yolks mashed up with condiments!”) is out of town, so I can eat them in peace. And then I was thinking about all the moments, ranging from meaningless to monumental, in which I’ve eaten deviled eggs. And then, of course, I was thinking about family and food traditions and how I have no idea why they’ve called “deviled” eggs, and I’d like to keep it that way. Shit was getting deep.
And then I popped the first deviled egg into my mouth, all in one bite like shooting an oyster (not that I’d know from experience because SLIMY), and all I could think about was how sublime they are. They can be an appetizer, a side dish, a snack, or a small meal by themselves. They cover several of the major food groups (eggs are protein, mayo is fat, pickle relish is basically cucumbers, so veggies are covered). They can hold their own alongside hifalutin dishes and the most basic delights. They’re simple, and no longer disappointingly so. They’re pleasingly simple. Whip-them-up-for-no-reason simple. They-were-my-first-dish-and-it-would-be-OK-if-they-were-my-last simple. And, as my Mama would say, you can’t beat that with a wooden spoon.
What’s the first dish you learned to cook?
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