Mississippi Tamale Trail
The Mississippi Delta is best known for its association with blues, cotton and catfish, however the Mississippi Delta also has a fascinating relationship with hot tamales. In restaurants, on street corners in snack shacks and in family kitchens throughout the Delta, this very old tradition remains vibrant.
Tamales have been available on menus in the MS Delta for much of the twentieth century. Robert Johnson sang about them in his song “They’re Red Hot” which he recorded in 1936. The author, Hodding Carter, tells the story of when the Hefners left McComb after they shared a hot tamale from Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville with civil rights workers.
Although there are different stories to the origination of the tamale, it is said that they came to be a Delta favourite during the early twentieth century when Hispanic labourers made their way to Mississippi from Texas through Arkansas to work the cotton harvest. During a cold day in November a Hispanic labourer unpacked a hot meal of tamales, tightly packed in a lard bucket, which was an improvement from the cold lunch of a nearby black co-worker. The fellow labourer smells the delicious aroma, begs for a taste and discovers the recipe to cook this inexpensive meal using readily available ingredients. When the cotton harvest is over, the Hispanic labourer travels back to Texas and the African American makes a batch of tamales which he starts selling from a cart to provide an income between cotton seasons. And, as they say, the rest is history!
Tamale recipes can vary between restaurants and families; in fact no two people make tamales the same in the Mississippi Delta. Pork is traditional, but some use beef or even turkey, filled with cornmeal and spices then steamed in a corn husk.
Today tamales are available and sung about in clubs and juke joints throughout the Mississippi Delta. With hot tamales being served alongside traditional Delta Blues at Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale nearly every weekend, you can enjoy an authentic Delta experience.
While travelling through the Mississippi Delta why not try different tamales and let us know what you think by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For a list of places on the tamale trail click here, where you can also read about the history behind each recipe and different places.