photo by LucianVenutian
photo by LucianVenutian

Growing up, I never knew that what I called a “hot tamale” wasn’t a food born and bred in Mississippi. The Delta Hot Tamale was as much a part of my southern upbringing as college football on Saturday and church on Sunday. There are just some things you don’t question as a Mississippian. A tamale was always “hot”, even if it wasn’t, and it was for sure born in the Delta. Well, call me shocked, but I’ve come to learn that our good friends from a little further south actually created this most delicious morsel. Now to be fair, Mexico may have conceived of the tamale, but the good folks of the Mississippi Delta took this humble food and blessed it with southern grace to elevate it to its revered place in our culture.  In honor of the place that the Delta Hot Tamale holds in the hearts of food lovers from all over, the Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail was born to guide pilgrims to the Delta’s temples of Tamales.

The Southern Foodways Alliance teamed up with Viking Range Corporation to develop the Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail. They have created a website that gives the history of the hot tamale, recipes and an interactive map to help you find the best tamales “from Tunica to Vicksburg”.

The Onward Store photo by Natalie Maynor
The Onward Store
photo by Natalie Maynor

My favorite tamales could be found at the Onward Store off of highway 61 in Rollingfork, MS. I stopped in two years ago while on a family history trip with my father and son through the Delta. My son, Jackson, felt right at home when we walked through the old store’s screen door to find three kids under the age of twelve manning the front and playing cards. Nobody was wearing shoes, which sent Jackson immediately back to the car to take off the flip-flops he had grudgingly put on to appease me. We interrupted the kid’s poker game long enough to order cokes and tamales. The method of relaying this was priceless: “Hey Momma! Some people want tamales!” This was yelled from the front door to “momma” somewhere in the back, never to be seen. We took a seat at an oil cloth covered table and considered the possibility that we had made a mistake in stopping. But, before we could make our exit, cokes and three orders of tamales with gravy were delivered to our table. We immediately knew that everything was going to be alright. And it was. Those tamales were perfection. Wrapped in corn husks, spicy and full of flavor and swimming in their cooking liquid. I was in tamale heaven. I heard recently that the store had been sold, so I called and asked if they still sold tamales. I was assured that while they do have new owners, they have the same tamales. Thank God!