Tamale time

It’s December, and it’s time for tamales. Actually, I love tamales at anytime of the year. But when the temperatures cool, they’re even better.

On Wednesday night, Dec. 2, at 6:30 p.m., the Arkansas Educational Television Network will debut a program titled “On the Tamale Trail.” Last year, AETN camera crews followed Kane Webb, Bill Vickery and me through the Delta regions of Arkansas and Mississippi in search of the best tamales we could find.

In Arkansas, we ate Pasquale’s tamales in Helena-West Helena and Rhoda’s tamales in Lake Village. In Mississippi, we visited Hicks’ and Abe’s in Clarksdale, John’s in Cleveland, the White Front in Rosedale, Doe’s in Greenville and Maria’s (in Shine Thornton’s backyard) in Greenville.

If you get a chance to watch the documentary Wednesday night, let me know what you think.

And let me know where you go to find the best tamales.

Delta tamales, of course, are different from Mexican tamales. I like both. My Mexican-American mother-in-law, on the other hand, hates Delta tamales. It’s apples and oranges.

If you have any interest in the subject, I urge you to go to the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Delta Tamale Trail website at www.tamaletrail.com.

SFA director and Southern food expert John T. Edge writes: “So what is this food, so often associated with Mexico, doing in the Mississippi Delta, you might ask. Isn’t this just an aberration? Like finding curried conch in Collierville, Tenn., or foie gras in Fort Smith, Ark.? It’s not that simple. Tamales have been a menu mainstay in the Mississippi Delta for much of the 20th century. Indeed, along with catfish, they may just be the archetypal Delta food. Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson sang about them in the song ‘They’re Red Hot,’ recorded in 1936.”

My mother remembers a tamale vendor roaming the streets when she was growing up in Des Arc.

My father remembers a tamale vendor when he was a child in Benton.

I’m glad we can still find Delta tamales. Eat up. It’s tamale time.

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13 Responses to “Tamale time”

  1. Lannie says:

    Whenever I eat tamales with my father he tells us how the tamale vendors roamed the streets of Memphis when he was a boy. Rhoda’s is on my list for the next time I make my way through Lake Village.

  2. Eric Wilson says:

    Look no further than Lackey’s Cajun restaurant in New Port, AR. As a Lyon College student, I made many trips to this great city and hardly ever returned without grabbing a dozen tamales to-go. They are served best with Lackey’s homemade “Stoner” sauce.

  3. George Baker says:

    Rex I really enjoyed the program last night. We go through Lake Village at least once a year and traditionally get a couple of orders of Rohda’s tamales. On some occasions my wife drags me kicking and screaming down there to spend painful hours shopping in Paul Michaels vast array of,\bargains.\ Rhoda usually drops by with fresh, hot and tasty tamales; it makes the torture much more bearable. And as yall did, I usually run into some one I know, sometimes an old coach being dragged by his wife and we commiserate! I think you have hit on a good way to hold up Arkansas and the Delta to the public for what it is, a unique and very wonderful part of the world.
    Do you know Jay Miller; he is an OBU grad from my era and is a great story teller/Arkansas advocate. He has great humor and his job is to promote Arkansas. I’ll bet you do know him; he would be a great asset to your already very interesting stories. G.B.

  4. Jason says:

    Rex – that was one of the most enjoyable hours of television I have watched in a long time. My wife and I were enthralled by the stories that each of your stops had to tell. And besides the stories the food looked amazing. Thanks to you, Kane and Bill for “sacrificing” your stomachs for our benefit and thanks to AETN for airing such an interesting show. Can’t wait for some sequels!

  5. rexnelson says:

    Thanks for watching, Jason and George. I have spoken with Kane and we are looking at doing a fried catfish tour in the spring. Please send your recommendations now — Rex

  6. Larry Isch says:

    Rex,
    Great show! I think I gained 5 pounds just watching it. I can’t wait until you guys do the homemade pie trail segment.

  7. rexnelson says:

    Larry: In addition to the “pie tour,” I hope the “catfish tour” and “plate lunch tour” will also occur.

    I welcome suggestions for each of those tours — Rex.

  8. Chris Babb says:

    Rex, do you need anybody to drive your car on your next tour? Carry a bag? provide the wheelchair to roll you out of the restaurants? I coud probably find the time to do it if I could eat with you.

  9. Allen Gaulding says:

    Growing up in Jackson MS I can remember the tamale carts coming through the neighborhood. As a college student in Memphis in the 1960′s I would go to a small place on Hwy 61 S many Sunday evenings and eat a dozen. Now, the only place to go is Lackey’s in Newport or to the BBT Lackey’s Cajun Tamale plant in Tuckerman to buy in bulk. They are the absolute best!

  10. Missed the show, Rex, but have to weigh-in on the subject of tamales. Love the little devils…in fact, I’ve never tried one I didn’t like. But, the cream of the crop for my taste is Lackey’s Cajun Tamale in Newport / Tuckerman, AR. Just the right size, just the right flavor of garlic and cajun spices and just the right texture. Their corn meal mesa is second to none. Little things are addictive…like eating popcorn…you just can’t stop puttin’ em away. I’ve been ordering a couple of cases in the fall for the Holidays for last several years from Bob Stoner, but I believe he finally decided to retire and sold out to a nice lady from Newport, but can’t recall her name. You have to put them on your next “tour”. And, if you ever get around to doing your fried catfish tour…you have to put Catfish’N in Dardanelle, AR on your list. GREAT food and beautiful setting right on the banks of the AR River. May the “F” trifecta be with you…food, friends and fun…out there in Arkansas!

  11. Ray Knapp says:

    My mother used to own a tamale restaraunt in Blytheville, Ar back in the 50′s, they were great tamales she made her own out of ground beef, but she the best were made out of rabbits..

  12. Jim Brummett says:

    Firstly,let me compliment you on your article this past Wednesday on “Tamales.” I don’t know your background or where you grew up. I am in my seventies. I gre up in North Little rock and spent my early years in the area that is now Altell Arena. I clearly remember a family by the name of Sullivan;they lived on Broadway in North Little Rock(close to Altell Arena). Me. Sullivan pushed his small 2 wheeled cart around the local neighborhood selling his homemade hot tamales. I spent my early educational years at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School. I would take a few of old newspapers by the Sullivan’s home on the way to school and they would give me two hot tamales in exchange for these. Mr. Sullivan would wrap corn husk tamales in these newspapers when you bought them. I don’t remember how much they were. This took place during the years of World War Two. Several years ago some of the descendants of the Sullivans attempted to revive their hot tamales in North Little rock in the area near Pike Plaza;for some reason they closed shortly therafter for unknown reasons. I sorely miss these hot tamales because there are a lot of tamales out there now but like barbecue,there are as many recipes for hot tamales as there ar people who make them. Again,like barbecue, they are all good but none of them come close to Sullivan’s hot tamales. None of the tamales out there today come anywhere near the taste of them.

  13. Jim Brummett, you are in luck. I am married to the Sullivan’s grandson whos mother, father, grandfather and grandmother were the proprietor’s of Sullivan’s Hot Tamales. The whole family participate in making these tamales. I have the original Sullivan’s hot tamale recipe. According to my husband and his sister, my tamales taste just like the original tamales. I will be delivering tomorrow, Wed, 16, 2013. Call me anytime @ 501-607-4825 for your tamale needs.

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