Dear Boswell experts,
I am an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. Whilst revising the word 'devilled', I have come across a mysterious reference to a comment made by James Boswell that we can't find in his writings. I was wondering if any of you reading this forum could help us find this 'missing' passage from Boswell's writings.
According to Theodora Fitzgibbon, in The Art of British Cooking (1965) and Food of the Western World (1976), Boswell 'frequently refers to partaking of a dish of "devilled bones" for supper'. This assertion has been repeated in various popular recipe books, newspaper articles, blogs, etc. Sometimes Boswell is said to have written about 'devilled bones' in The Life of Samuel Johnson, but Fitzgibbon herself doesn't actually say that.
Here at the OED, we haven't been able to find a reference to 'devilled bones' in a digital edition of any of Boswell's works, including Life of Johnson. Neither could blogger Jane-Anne Hobbs (http://whatsforsupper-juno.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/devilled-mushrooms-on-...): 'After an exhaustive search of Boswell's books - at least the ones that have been digitised - I couldn't find a single reference to the writer gnawing on spicy bones. I did discover with relief, though, that 'bone' in this context meant a devilled joint of meat, not a dry rib or femur or the like.' Sadly Theodora Fitzgibbon has passed away, so we can't ask her for help.
Has any reader of this forum come across a reference to 'devilled bones' in any of Boswell’s writings? At the moment, our earliest example of the adjective 'devilled' applied to a food is from 1796. Since James Boswell died in 1795, if he did write about 'devilled bones', it would be the earliest known evidence. If anyone can help, we would greatly appreciate it!
Assistant Editor, Oxford English Dictionary