Angel’s, Devil’s and Heavenly Foods

Recently I had the chance to gather with some colleagues to watch an ABC documentary Barbara Walters did a while back on Heaven. She interviewed Rabbis, Imams, Pastors, Buddhists (including the Dali Lama), Atheists, and a host of people who believe in heaven and hell and those who do not. It was a fascinating documentary which illustrated how there was little agreement across or within faith traditions as to what Heaven is, if that is what it should be called, or what you needed to do to get there.

The next day, I was talking with one of the people who had planned to come and could not and she jokingly asked me an interesting question, “So what did you serve for refreshments? Angel’s food cake, devil’s food cake, or heavenly hash.” At the moment, her question seemed humorous. However, as I thought about it, it made me wonder what is it about a food that makes us identify it as angel or devil or heavenly. Sometimes how one describes something one calls devilish is described as heavenly, which can seem to some like an oxymoron.  For example, Nigella Lawson provides a recipe for Devil’s Food Cake. Her description of this cake “Forget the name, this cake is heavenly. The crumb is tender, the filling and frosting luscious. “

So is what makes something heavenly that it is tender and luscious. Even when I asked my friends, none of them could quite describe what it is. Several of my friends said it was one of those things that you just knew when you tasted it. One of my friends echoed Nigella Lawson’s description of her cake. “Sometimes something is so heavenly and luxurious, you feel sinful for eating it because you know there has got to be like 2000 calories in this desert.”

I recently found a store whose name is Heaven Made. They said, “For over 25 years we have hidden away in our Norfolk kitchens lovingly creating the most sublime, delicious and mouth watering desserts.” So the puddings are more Norfolk made, than Heaven made. However, somehow Norfolk made puddings does not elicit the same emotional response as Heaven made.

Interestingly angel’s food cake was not always known by that name. The first record of this cake was in the late 1870’s and published by Mrs. Porter in her New Southern Cookbook. Originally called Silver Cakes, they were traditionally served at African American funerals and the lightness of this sponge cake was said to be the food of the angels. It was the lightness and whiteness of the cake which suggested something angelic. It was not until almost a decade later that the name was changed to angel’s food. The other main angelic food is angel hair pasta. It is said that the pasta was so thin and fine, it resembled the hair of angels. Hmm, has anybody seen the hair of an angel lately and what exactly does their hair look like?

Conversely, devil’s food cake was named such because of the richness and the moistness of the cake.  It has also been suggested that the name came about because it is the opposite texture and color to angel food cake, but no one knows for sure. A few food historians have written about how devil’s food cakes were originally red, not brown, in color as one of their main ingredients was beets.  

Cake, however, is not the only thing that is devilish. We have deviled eggs and deviled ham.  Deserts which are devilish tend to be rich, moist, and luxurious. Foods that are devilish or deviled tend to be spicy and zesty. As much “devilish” food as I eat (I love spicy and zesty), people should see me as far more devilish then they do. With the exception of Underwood’s deviled ham, there is no association with the devil.  Underwood began using the devil around 1895. However, eating this deviled ham will not do anything in terms of your relationship with anything demonic.

So what makes food heavenly? This is where we stop as nobody can seem to be able to tell you what makes something heavenly or what you need to do to acquire a heavenly appetizer, entrée, soup, salad, or desert. As my friends all told me, you will know it is heavenly, when you try it. So what is your heavenly food moment and what made it heavenly?