None of my family's holiday dinners was ever complete without deviled eggs, displayed on a large, round glass plate with indentations for each egg. The tradition came from my father's side of the family, but Mom was quick to learn, and she made sure that our egg plate was filled with beautifully garnished eggs at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Almost all of us in my family have made deviled eggs. But it was Dad who won the prize for making them for the most people at one time.
"We've got too many eggs in the food supplies. We'll be serving eggs to the sailors at every meal. I can hear the mutiny of complaints already," the naval officer addressed the sailors assigned to kitchen patrol. His face became redder with each sentence. "Any bright ideas for using up these eggs?" he barked.
There was silence, until one sailor stepped forward hesitantly, cleared his throat and said, "Sir, I, ah, we could make deviled eggs, sir." His black curly hair stood out against the white of his uniform. He lowered his hazel eyes and stepped back to his position.
The young sailor, who had the courage to speak up with a plan, was my father. He was often intimidated by people in authority, but in this case, he believed in his family's traditions and his mother's cooking. He got the go-ahead from the officer, and the sailors on KP scurried around to locate huge kettles in which to boil the eggs.
Dad and the cooks peeled the boiled eggs, cut them in half and separated the yolks from the whites. Using what he could remember from his mother's recipe, Dad added ingredients to the egg yolks and mixed until smooth. Everyone helped spoon the mixture into the egg whites.
As they worked, Dad asked, "Any paprika or green olives on board ship?" One cook returned moments later with both items, and Dad, alternating a sprinkle of paprika with a slice of olive with pimento, decorated the eggs, which he presented to the officer.
"They look good, Pitzer, but how do they taste?" The officer slid one into his mouth.
Dad shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "I hope, ah, I hope you like it, sir."
The officer reached for another and gave Dad a relieved smile, "These are great, really great! Where'd you learn to make them?"
"My mother," Dad responded. "They're a favorite with my family on holidays back on the farm, sir." The eggs were a big hit with both officers and shipmates alike, and Dad was the hero of the day.
Within my own family, Mom prepared the deviled eggs for holidays until Alzheimer's disease curtailed her ability to cook. Then I became the deviled egg maker. Today, as the date for a get-together approaches, a friend or relative asks, "You'll bring your deviled eggs, won't you?"
At a recent Thanksgiving celebration with friends, I set my deviled eggs on the festively decorated table. After dinner, as we cleared away the dishes, a little red-headed boy with freckles across his nose approached me hesitantly. He lowered his blue eyes and said with a shy smile, "Gloria, you make the betht egth in the whole wide world!"
"Thank you," I responded. "I'm glad you like them. My father liked them, too, and he made sure we had them at every Thanksgiving dinner. Once he made them for a shipload of sailors. I often make them for a house full of friends."
Gloria Heinemann, of Buffalo, recalls how her father made deviled eggs for a shipload of sailors.