It's time to learn about the Mississippi Delta's long love affair with hot tamales
Jay Jones, Special Contributor
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GREENVILLE, Miss. --
In the Mississippi Delta, that swath of bottomland along the mightiest of rivers, it's best not to ask folks how the tamale -- a humble food with deep roots in Latin America -- made its way to, of all places, Mississippi.
Sure, you can ask. But your head will soon be swimming with countless theories.
Were the packets of spicy meat and cornmeal wrapped in corn husks consumed on the battlefield by Confederate soldiers? Or, did they not appear until the early 20th century, when Mexican migrants came to pick cotton?
One thing is for certain: They had grown hugely popular by the time legendary bluesman Robert Johnson sang about them in 1935.
Hot tamales and they're red hot, yes she got 'em for sale
She got two for a nickel, got four for a dime
Nowadays, a dozen will cost you $10, but they continue to be sought after in towns along the river from Tunica to Natchez. No visit is complete without indulging in a food that, in these parts, is as beloved as biscuits and gravy.
Aaron Harmon (left) and his father, Willie, run Hot Tamale Heaven, a restaurant and manufacturing facility in Greenville, Mississippi. They make about 20,000 tamales each day.
In Greenville, the self-proclaimed Hot Tamale Capital (there's a Delta Hot Tamale Festival this year on Oct. 21), tamales can be ordered not only in restaurants, but also from street vendors and roadside stands. The team at Hot Tamale Heaven (1640 U.S. 82, Greenville, 662-378-2240) makes 20,000 of them a day.
Willie Harmon began making tamales for his neighbors in the mid-1980s. The first day, he made $6.50.
"I was so happy, you'd have thought I made a thousand dollars," he said.Willie now oversees the factory while son Aaron manages their restaurant. (A second location is under construction.) They serve them in the traditional husks, as well as battered and deep-fried.
Workers at Hot Tamale Heaven in Greenville prepare tamales for sale, trimming the corn husks and tying them together in batches of six.
Downtown, on the corner of Washington and Theobald, Perry Gibson's been selling tamales for 35 years from a stainless-steel cart labeled Perry's Original Sho-Nuff Hot Tamales. He has a passionate recipe for success.
"A lot of love and good seasonings and good product. You start with a good product, you end with a good product," he observed.About 85 miles to the south, in historic Vicksburg, owner Jewel McCain of Solly's Hot Tamales (1921 Washington St., Vicksburg, 601-636-2020) pointed out a simple truth: There's nothing "fast" about her food. Tamales are exceedingly time-consuming to make.
"I get up here at 4:30 in the morning, get the water boiling and the grease on, seasoning the meat. I get the [corn] shucks in the pot to soften them," she noted.
McCain said she can have as many as 120 dozen tamales made by the time the first customers arrive at 10:30 a.m. Her recipe -- handed down from Henry Solly, who began the small restaurant in 1939 -- is a blend of chiles, cumin, garlic salt, ground beef, oregano and red pepper covered in white cornmeal.
Solly's also serves a tamale burrito ($4.50) and the Fiesta, her spin on nachos. The platter ($6.25 for a small order, $7.75 for a large) includes tamales alongside cheddar cheese, chili, jalapeños and refried beans -- with tortilla chips on the side.
The sprawling Vicksburg National Military Park (nps.gov/vick) is a reminder of the city's pivotal role in the Civil War. Its fall on July 4, 1863, was a bitter pill to swallow. Locals refused to celebrate Independence Day until 1945, when they caught the patriotic fever sweeping the country.
At Fat Mama s in Natchez, people who ve yet to try the local cuisine are encouraged to try a variety of menu items, including tamales, a southern-style sausage, chili and cornbread.
Downriver in Natchez on a sultry summer's eve, David Gammill's tamales are as hot and steamy as the air. At Fat Mama's Tamales (303 S. Canal St., Natchez, 601-442-4548, fatmamastamales.com), the restaurant his parents started, he grew up doing his homework on a cot wedged between a deep freezer and jumbo-size bags of onions.
"There are a thousand things you could cook that are easier than tamales," he mused.Still, after completing college, he returned to Vicksburg to run the family business.
Gammill urges the uninitiated to build a shareable platter by ordering not only tamales ($10 a dozen), but boudin, a spicy Cajun sausage ($4.25); "Fire and Ice" pickles ($2.50); and his chili ($6.75), which comes with a large side of zesty cornbread.
"There were tamales along the river as long as anyone can remember," he said, making his parents' restaurant, which opened in a small log cabin in 1982, a relative newcomer. It has since moved and expanded.
One of the theories postulated by the Southern Foodways Alliance, part of the University of Mississippi, is that American Indians, whose diet was based on maize, made the first tamales thousands of years ago. But as Jewel McCain pointed out, "It's just basically speculation."
If you goThe Southern Foodways Alliance (southernfoodways.org) has a searchable website that includes oral histories and an interactive map of its Mississippi Tamale Trail, with more than 20 listings.
Jay Jones is a freelance writer in Las Vegas.
Greater Greenville Development Foundation (GGDF) of Greenville, MS has been awarded a $4,100.00 grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC). This grant is a portion of the $1.5 million in grants the Commission will award in 2016-2017 and will be used in support of the Delta Hot Tamale Festival. The grants are made possible by continued funding from the Mississippi State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.
“Organizations that support the arts play a pivotal role in growing Mississippi’s creative economy,” said Malcolm White, Executive Director of MAC. “The Mississippi Arts Commission is pleased to support their work, which reinforces the value of the arts for communities and for the economic development of our state.”
GGDF, Inc. is a non-profit organization, organized exclusively for charitable, educational, scientific, and literary purposes. Our mission is to promote events and issues which are relevant to the quality of life for the residents of Greenville, Washington County, the Mississippi Delta, and the State of Mississippi.
The Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency, serves the residents of the state by providing grants that support programs to enhance communities; assist artists and arts organizations; promote the arts in education and celebrate Mississippi’s cultural heritage. Established in 1968, the Mississippi Arts Commission is funded by the Mississippi Legislature, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mississippi Endowment for the Arts at the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson and other private sources. The agency serves as an active supporter and promoter of arts in community life and in arts education.
For information from the Mississippi Arts Commission, contact Melia Dicker, Communications Director, at 601-359-6546 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Mississippi Communities Receive 2016 National Main Street Accreditation
JACKSON, Miss. (June 23, 2016) -- The following Main Street communities in Mississippi have been designated as accredited Main Street America™ programs for meeting rigorous performance standards set by the National Main Street Center:
Aberdeen, Amory, Baldwyn, Batesville, Belhaven, Biloxi, Booneville, Canton, Carthage, Cleveland, Clinton, Columbia, Columbus, Corinth, Crystal Springs, Greenville, Greenwood, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Hernando, Holly Springs, Houston, Indianola, Kosciusko, Laurel, Louisville/Noxapater, Macon, Meridian, New Albany, Ocean Springs, Okolona, Olive Branch, Pascagoula, Pass Christian, Philadelphia, Picayune, Pontotoc, Port Gibson, Ripley, Senatobia, Starkville, Tunica, Tupelo, Vicksburg, Water Valley, West Point and Woodville.
Each year, the National Main Street Center and its partners announce the list of accredited Main Street America programs in recognition of their exemplary commitment to preservation-based economic development and community revitalization through the Main Street Approach®.
"Receiving National Main Street accreditation is a prestigious designation and we congratulate each of these programs in Mississippi for this achievement," said Stacy Pair, MMSA State Coordinator. "Main Street programs play a strategic role in making Mississippi more competitive by stimulating local, regional and statewide economic development."
“Once again, we are thrilled to recognize this year’s nationally accredited Main Street America communities for their outstanding work,” says Patrice Frey, President & CEO of the National Main Street Center. “We are experiencing an exciting era for America’s cities and towns, with a growing recognition of the importance of strong local enterprise, distinctive character, engaged residents, and sense of place. These are things that Main Street America programs have been working to protect and advance for years, strengthening the economic, social, and cultural fabric of communities across the country.”
Each Main Street organization’s performance is annually evaluated by the Mississippi Main Street Association, which works in partnership with the National Main Street Center to identify the local programs that meet 10 performance standards. Evaluation criteria determines the communities that are building comprehensive and sustainable revitalization efforts and include standards such as fostering strong public-private partnerships, securing an operating budget, tracking programmatic progress and actively preserving historic buildings.
Since 1993, Mississippi Main Street Association has generated nearly $4.9 billion in private and public investment (including nearly $1.2 billion in public investment).
In 2015, Mississippi Main Street cities generated 178 net new businesses, 49 business expansions to existing businesses, 1,695 net new jobs, 61 facade rehabilitations and 225 downtown residential units. More than 47,377 volunteer hours were recorded.
MMSA currently has 52 active Main Street cities throughout the state, five Downtown Network members, and numerous Association and Allied professional members.
The Mississippi Main Street Association is a program of the National Main Street Center, Inc., and the Mississippi Development Authority with many allied partners and investors. Main Street is an economic development program based in historic preservation. The mission of the Mississippi Main Street Association is to provide visionary leadership, guidance and counsel to Mississippi Main Street communities through organization, promotion, design and economic development to make our cities and towns better places to work, live and play. For more information, visit http://www.msmainstreet.com
Main Street America has been helping revitalize older and historic commercial districts for more than 35 years. Today, it is a network of more than 1,000 neighborhoods and communities, rural and urban, who share both a commitment to place and to building stronger communities through preservation-based economic development. Since 1980, communities participating in the program have leveraged more than $65.6 billion in new public and private investment, generated 556,960 net new jobs and 126,476 net new businesses, and rehabilitated more than 260,000 buildings. Main Street America is a program of the nonprofit National Main Street Center, a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Posted: Monday, June 20, 2016 7:16 am
Hot Tamale Heaven is expanding
Mary Alfordemail@example.com Delta Democrat Times
GREENVILLE — Hot Tamale Heaven won’t just be a drive-through anymore. The owners are opening a new dine-in restaurant on Mississippi 1.
Although Hot Tamale Heaven is a family business that started more than three decades ago by his father, Aaron Harmon and his wife, Natasha, are leading this new endeavor and are full of excitement.
“We’re growing the business. Greenville is the Hot Tamale Capital of the world, so Hot Tamale Heaven has a vested interest in making sure that hot tamales are represented properly in Greenville. Hence why my wife and I decided to open a second location here in Greenville,” he said.
Harmon said they will be pulling out all the stops in the new location.
“We want to represent properly here in Greenville. We have multiple things we are going to carry on the menu,” Harmon said, noting they will have all things hot tamale as well as other items. “We are going to do more than tamales. We’ve been looking around seeing what’s missing and we want to cover the things that are missing in town. I don’t want to let the cat completely out of the bag just yet.”
He said the additional location will have extended hours, though not set yet, and he expects to hire at least 20 people.
“We want to do all we can to make sure Greenville is moving forward and as we know, Washington Avenue and the downtown area is growing; we have a lot of big plans for this area. We’re expanding the business but we’re not forgetting about home,” he said.
And “home” is a concept Harmon wants residents to associate with their new location at 1427 Mississippi 1 South, where they have recently broken ground.
“I want everyone to give us a shot, we’ve been here a long time. People know and love our product. We love serving them. I want them to come out to our new location and look around. I want them to feel at home there. We’re doing it for them, not just for ourselves and our family, we consider everyone in Greenville to be a part of our extended family, so we want them to come home to their extended home and enjoy themselves,” he said.
Harmon said he hopes to have the Mississippi 1 location up and running by this year’s Delta Hot Tamale Festival, Oct. 13-16.
“If everything goes as planned we would love, absolutely love, to be open for the tamale fest. …But if not, we’re going to be open as fast as we can,” he said, noting they will have a soft opening at first to make sure the staff is well trained and the food is excellent.
“We don’t want to rush ourselves, we want to make sure everything is covered.”
A local family business
Harmon said Hot Tamale Heaven began about 35 years ago, when his father and mother, Willie and Inez Harmon, decided to delve into the tamale business.
“I was just a young lad of 6- or 7-years-old. My father started this business, my mother and father. My father at the time was working a factory job that he hated. And someone told him that a man could make a decent living making tamales, which he didn’t have any idea of how to do at that time,” Harmon said, noting his father wasn’t deterred. “He contacted a lady that he knew in Arkansas. … She gave him the rudimentary aspects of making tamales.”
From there, Harmon said his father took her process and her recipe and made it his own, adding his own ingredients into the mix.
Once his father came up with a tamale he liked, he had the family try it as well as some of his friends, all of whom loved the new concoction.
“So (my father) decided to sell tamales in the neighborhood and it took off from there. Everybody liked the recipe. They liked the product. And he began to slowly grow it from that point on,” Harmon said, laughing as he noted he and his five siblings were his father’s first laborers.
“We began to help him in business when we got home for school, and on more than one occasional he would get us out of school if he had a big order for tamales and needed some help,” he said.
But, the tamales were too good to just sell to neighbors. Harmon said they started selling tamales on Washington Avenue and what is now Stein Mart Square. He said often his mother would be set up at Stein Mart Square and his father at the old Greenville Mall location.
“And it took off from there. My brothers and sisters and I we were growing up in the business and sometimes (our father) would take us along with him to watch, to see how he did things, how he treated the customers. …We learned the tricks of the trade and we knew the making process, the rolling process and the selling process,” Harmon said.
And those are skills that Harmon and a few of his siblings continue to use in their shop on U.S. 82, where they’ve been since 2007, as well as their processing plant on Main Street.
“My father and brother pretty much run the factory process. He sells to many fine restaurants all over the Delta and beyond,” Harmon said.
And soon, they’ll soon have one more location for folks to enjoy their tasty tamales.
Their hours at the U.S. 82 location are 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 1-6 p.m. Sunday.
Music, inflatables on tap for Farmers’ Market season opener
Posted: Friday, June 3, 2016 11:36 am
Music, inflatables on tap for Farmers’ Market season opener
Mary Alford malford@ddtonline Delta Democrat Times | 0 comments
GREENVILLE — Saturday is the day everyone has been waiting for — the day folks will finally be able to get their hands on some fresh produce.
The Greenville Farmers’ Market will officially be open for the season Saturday — and will be stay open every Saturday afterward from 8 a.m. to noon. Residents will be able to purchase any type of fresh veggies or fruits from the market, which is at the corner of Washington Avenue and North Street.
For the first day of the Farmers’ Market, Daniel Boggs, chief executive officer of Main Street Greenville and Greater Greenville Development Foundation, said they are going to pull out all the stops.
“As with every year, we always want to open it up big. … It’s a good time for the family to come down. We’re going to have inflatables for the kids. We’re going to have live music. We really want people to come down and just kind of experience the Farmers’ Market and see what we’re going to have available for the year,” Boggs said. “Like everything that Main Street does, we’re going to try to create a family environment for everybody, all ages.”
Boggs said Mike Flaton, from the Nashville area, will be playing music from about 9-11 a.m. Saturday.
Although they are getting a later start than normal, Boggs anticipates the market staying open through the end of October.
Boggs said the Farmers’ Market is important to the community because it gives residents the ability to get quality, organic food. He said this was especially important to Greenville because parts of the area are identified by the United State’s Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service as a food desert, meaning residents have limited access to supermarkets, supercenters, grocery stores or other sources of healthy and affordable food, which may make it harder for some to eat a healthy diet.
“As an organization, we understand the importance of a Farmers’ Market to a community and providing the opportunity to buy the fresh fruits and vegetables,” Boggs said. “But to offer up a lot of other central items as well.We’re definitely opening it up to more than just farmers.”
Boggs said they have seen growth around a lot of Farmers’ Markets throughout he United States and they are making a conservative effort to increase the visibility of Greenville’s Farmers’ Market and increase the vendors, goods and opportunities that will be there.
“Hopefully, over the next couple of years, the people will see the Farmers’ Market evolve into a bigger thing than what we’ve had in the past,” he said.
Those interested in setting up a booth can do so for $30 per month or $100 for the whole season. Setups do include electricity.
For more information, residents can call Main Street Greenville at 662-378-3121.
Main Street Greenville is once again partnering with EE Bass and the Greenville Arts Council for the 2016 Delta Hot Tamale Festival Poster Contest. There is a $250.00 prize for the winning entry and entries must be submitted by August 12.
For a copy of the official contest rules and entry form visit: https://greenville-arts-council.com/2016/03/18/delta-hot-tamale-festival-t-shirtposter-design-contest-announced/
Scott’s Hot Tamales in Greenville, Mississippi, is barely the size of a snow-cone stand. If you are driving north on MLK Boulevard, it’s easy to miss the red-and-white walk-up. The main clue for those hunting Elizabeth Scott’s famous tamales? Cars. Lots of cars. People carry off the Delta’s best by the dozen from sundown to past midnight.
The cravings began around 1950, when Elizabeth and her husband, Aaron, moved to Greenville with a tamale recipe he’d bought from a cook in San Antonio. The Scotts first sold tamales from a wooden pushcart and station wagon in Bolivar County.
More than 50 years later, Elizabeth, 87, has passed the award-winning tradition to her five daughters and oldest son, plus several grandchildren, who hand make thousands of tamales a week at the family’s farmhouse in Metcalf outside Greenville. Tuesdays and Thursdays are tamale days at Elizabeth’s house, where her daughters and granddaughters hand-wash each corn shuck and slow-cook the beef brisket filling in a small room next to the kitchen.
When I visit, Elizabeth is resting in her sitting parlor. “Do I still make them?” she says. “No, I retired. But I like being near.” What she and her husband began six decades ago is relatively unchanged. Elizabeth’s glassy eyes observe the room, and she quietly says to me, “This is nice.”
Taylor Bruce for Southern Living Magazine
Image by Jennifer Davick
6. Hot Tamale Festival, Greenville
Celebrating the Delta’s specialty, the hot tamale, this annual festival takes place each October. The three-day long affair includes a tamale cooking contest and a tamale eating contest, making it the perfect time to indulge on the food that has become synonymous with the Delta.
To see the complete list: http://www.onlyinyourstate.com/mississippi/food-festivals-in-ms/
More information on The Hot Tamale Festival: Hot Tamale Festival, October 13-15, 2016