AFRICAN AMERICAN HOT TAMALES FROM THE MISSISSIPPI DELTA
The Southern Foodways Alliance has researched the origins of Hot Tamales of the Mississippi Delta, and share that “Some hypothesize that tamales made their way to the Mississippi Delta in the early twentieth century when migrant laborers from Mexico arrived to work the cotton harvest. African Americans who labored alongside Mexican migrants recognized the basic tamale ingredients: corn meal and pork. Others maintain that the Delta history with tamales goes back to the U.S.-Mexican War one hundred years earlier, when U.S. soldiers traveled to Mexico and brought tamale recipes home with them. Others still argue that tamales date to the Mississippian culture of mound-building Native Americans. Today, African Americans are the primary keepers of Delta tamale-making tradition.” Their online oral history project on Hot Tamales of the Mississippi Delta has interviews, short films, maps and more.
This short documentary, Rolling Delta Tamales, by Center for Documentary Projects of the Southern Foodways Alliance, is a portrait of tamale maker Elizabeth Scott, of Greenville, Mississippi, winner of the Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award. Today, six of her children and grandchildren carry on the tradition at their tamale stand on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Greenville.
You can also learn more about Delta hot tamales in Anne Martin’s 2016 book, Delta Hot Tamales: History, Stories & Recipes, in which she gathers the history of Delta Tamales and stories of 25 different tamale makers.
Anne Martin grew up in the middle of the hot tamale epicenter, Greenville, Mississippi. She is an award-winning journalist, a writer, and co-founder of the Delta Hot Tamale Festival.
Robert Johnson was born in Mississippi in 1911, and lived and worked in the Mississippi Delta most of his life - which ended when he was only 27. Johnson wrote and recorded a song about Hot Tamales - They’re Red Hot - the single was released in 1937.