In nineteenth century England, cayenne pepper was a very popular ingredient, and had been for many years. Indeed, Elizabeth Raffald’s The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769), for example, contains 53 references to ‘Chyan pepper’. In addition to simply sprinkling powdered cayenne pepper on food, there was also the option of purchasing commercially produced salts, sauces, and vinegars infused with cayenne (AG Payne, 1886, pp.24-26).
A leading product of the period was Clarence’s Cayenne Sauce, described at the time as ‘a very hot sauce’ (Payne, p.25), which was, according to advertisements in London newspapers (1869 and 1870), ‘pronounced by connoisseurs the best sauce’. These connoisseurs were largely drawn from the English upper classes. Clarence’s Cayenne Sauce was promoted at the International Exhibition of 1862 as follows:
This sauce is used as a relish to roast meat, game, poultry, steaks, chops, cutlets, fish, soup, gravy, &c. Its thorough adaptation to this purpose has won for it a first class among sauces, and extensive patronage in the houses of the nobility and gentry, and in the clubs.
‘The clubs’ is a reference to the private members clubs of London, where the wealthy gathered to drink and socialise. In addition to enjoying foods laced with cayenne sauce, the patrons of these clubs were also big fans of a snack known as ‘devilled bones’. Since 1964, Americans (and now many people in other countries) have been accompanying late night bar room sessions with Buffalo wings; fried chicken wings coated in a cayenne pepper hot sauce. Long before that, 19th Century Englishmen were enjoying a similar combination.
Devilled bones was a simple dish made by combining ‘the bones of any remaining joint or poultry, which has still some meat on’ (Soyer, 1858 , p.159) with butter, hot mustard, and cayenne pepper. The meat was scored so the seasonings would permeate throughout (Payne, p.25), then coated with this ‘devil sauce’ and briefly cooked until hot. There were various different recipes, depending on the location. For example, the members of Boodle’s Private Members’ Club (which exists to this day) in St James’s Street, London, were served devilled bones coated in a mixture of butter, dry English mustard, black pepper, salt, curry powder, cayenne pepper, and Worcestershire sauce.
A simpler recipe can be found in Mary Davies’ The Menu Cookery Book (1885, p.181), a book intended for ‘moderate people with moderate incomes’:
Take the leg, back, or wing bones of turkey or fowl, score them a little with a knife, butter them well, then lay mustard thickly over, sprinkle cayenne or common pepper on, and broil. Serve very hot.
Basically, then, an early form of hot wings.
While hot sauces and devilled bones were very popular, not everyone was a fan. Kettner’s Book of the Table (1877, p.157), for example, contains the following disparaging remarks:
It is the great fault of all devilry that it knows no bounds. A moderate devil is almost a contradiction in terms; and yet it is quite certain that if a devil is not moderate he destroys the palate, and ought to have no place in cookery, the business of which is to tickle, not to annihilate, the sense of taste.
Eventually, the hot sauce and devilled bones trend died out, a fact bemoaned by the essayist EV Lucas in his 1924 book Encounters and Diversions (pp.19-20):
Britons, who were never to be slaves, are slaves once more, principally to cynical Italian caterers. Where are certain simple delicacies of yesteryear? Where is that ancient nocturnal amenity, the devilled bone? After the theatre, how agreeable it once was, too many years ago, to seek the Blue Posts in Cork Street and be sure of devilled bones!
A head waiter is quoting as saying that ‘nobody asks for them now’.
Visit any major supermarket (and plenty of smaller shops) in England today, and you can purchase a wide variety of hot sauces, including cayenne sauces, although Clarence’s Cayenne Sauce is sadly nowhere to be found. Asking for devilled bones in a pub or bar will most likely result in a look of confusion on the part of the barkeeper. Ask for hot wings, however, and there’s a fair chance you’ll be served some, particularly in the larger chains (although, recently, Buffalo wing sauce is being replaced by trendy Sriracha hot sauce).
Hot sauce and hot wings seem like something relatively new and exotic in England today; however, they actually have an English pedigree dating back to at least the nineteenth century.