Any time you enter a beer joint or beer store in the South, you're likely to find a big jar of pickled eggs on the counter next to the beef jerky, the pieds de porc à l'écarlate and all the other Bubbas that belly up to the Southern sideboard. Pickled eggs are tainted by their dissolute company and brutalized by mass marketing.
Those over-boiled, nitrate-infused super-ball eggs in roadhouse jars are the ovulatory equivalent of mealy winter tomatoes, and while witnesses will gleefully attest that I have eaten my share of them—and some might even mention the resulting wind—I'll be the first to admit that they're just not good food.
On the other hand, properly pickled eggs are a treat; they're a great side with cold meats, poultry or game, and good in tuna, chicken or vegetable salads. One recipe I have from a Junior League-type cookbook published in the '30s claims that they're "ever so good chopped into hash, and provide just the right touch bedded on greens with a dressing of sharp, spicy goodness." Craig Claiborne included a pickled egg recipe in his New York Times Cookbook (wouldn't he just?), and Rita Mae Brown, one of our best Southern writers, employs this dish as a culinary bone of contention between two cantankerous sisters in her riotous novel, Six of One.
The white of a pickled egg should be firm, not tough or rubbery, and the yolk should be moist and almost creamy, not crumbly and dry. They should also have a light, balanced tangy/sweet flavor as a platform for other seasonings: I like a couple of slit hot peppers, a slice or two of garlic and a bay leaf to flavor mine, but dill, caraway or even cloves figure among other attractive possibilities. For pickling, boil six small or medium eggs until just done. Then stuff the (peeled) eggs into a wide-mouthed glass jar along with whatever accompaniments you like. In order to find out how much liquid you need to cover the eggs, fill the jar with a mixture of white vinegar and water (3-to-1) just to the top, making sure to get rid of air bubbles by tapping or tipping the jar. If you miss the barroom rose hue, use beet juice for color.
Heat the liquid, seasoned with sugar and salt. (You'll have to fiddle with this a bit to get the ratio right; it's a matter of personal preference.) Then cool the liquid to a temperature you can hold your finger in for a few seconds. Pour it back over the eggs; if there's not quite enough liquid to cover them entirely, add a little more warm water. Then tilt again and seal the jar. Store in a cool, dark place overnight, then refrigerate.