Hot tamales aren’t just good to eat, but represent a rich Southern food tradition. That is why the Southern Foodways Alliance, which is part of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, has done oral history interviews with many of the businesses that have garnered a spot on the Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail.
Southern Foodways Alliance Oral Historian Amy C. Evans shares information about some of the top stops on the Hot Tamale Trail:
» Hicks’ Famous Hot Tamales and More, 305 South State Street/U.S. 61, Clarksdale, (662) 624-9887. Eugene Hicks has been making hot tamales since 1960. He learned how to make them from Acy Ware, who peddled tamales on the streets of Clarksdale. In 1970, Hicks opened his first restaurant. The recipe has changed a bit over the years as he has experimented with different meats and spices. Hicks has never committed a recipe to writing, though. He works alone to cook and spice the meat, keeping the secrets to himself. What is no secret, though, are the custom devices and ingenious methods of production he has created. As a result, Hicks can produce 10 times the amount of hot tamales that could be made by hand.
» Abe’s Bar-B-Q, 616 N. State St., Clarksdale, (662) 624-9947, Abe’s Bar-B-Q has been in business in the same location since 1937. Pat Davis Sr., remembers Mexican vendors peddling hot tamales in downtown Clarksdale when he was a kid. At the same time, Pat was helping his father, Lebanese-born Abraham “Abe” Davis, make his own pork-filled tamales by hand in the kitchen of the family’s restaurant. Eventually, Pat talked his father into buying an extruder to make their tamale chores a little easier. Today, their tamales are contract manufactured according to Abe’s original recipe. The Davis family introduced the Tamaco, a green salad with tamales on top. It’s a whole new twist on the generations-old tradition of hot tamales.
» Joe’s Hot Tamale Place (a.k.a — The White Front Café), 902 Main Street, Rosedale, (662) 759-3842. Joe Pope began selling hot tamales in Rosedale in the 1970s after a friend shared a recipe with him. The friend, John Hooks, got the recipe from a Mexican migrant sometime in the 1930s. A side-job at first, Joe’s Hot Tamale Place, also known as the White Front Café, became so popular that Joe made it a full-time business when he retired from his day job. Joe passed away in December of 2004, but his youngest sister, Barbara Pope, is still making his famous tamales.
» Solly’s Hot Tamales, 1921 Washington St., Vicksburg, (601) 636-2020. Solly’s Hot Tamales has been a Vicksburg tradition since 1939. Henry Solly, a native of Cuba, developed a recipe and began selling hot tamales from a pushcart. Eventually, his tamales got so popular that he retired the cart and opened a storefront. Solly made tamales at 1921 Washington Street until his death in 1992. The present owner, Jewel McCain, has continued the tradition, still making tamales according to Solly’s recipe. They also now offer something called a “Fiesta” — the taco salad of the tamale world.
» Delta Fast Food, 701 S. Davis Ave. at U.S. 61, Cleveland, (662) 846-8800. Gentle Lee Rainey was born on Dockery Plantation, a few miles east of Cleveland, Miss. Dockery, the one time home of Charlie Patton and Howlin’ Wolf, is widely considered the birthplace of the Blues. For Gentle Lee Rainey, it was the birthplace of the Delta hot tamale. Rainey’s grandfather began making his own version of this Delta delicacy, using corn shucks from the fields, in an effort to earn extra money on the weekends. Eventually, the entire Rainey family learned the art of tamale making. They would peddle their homemade bundles in the nearby town of Ruleville on Saturday nights. Today, Rainey owns and operates Delta Fast Food in Cleveland, where he has served hot tamales and other take-away foods since 1995. He still makes his hot tamales from his grandfather’s recipe, but with a little added spice. Tastes may change, but this version of the Delta tamale has remained remarkably the same.