Grandma’s Hot Tamales

We didn’t have a lot of traditions growing up. One of our best traditions was hot tamales.

In the fall, Grandma made hot tamales. She gathered a bunch of corn husks and soaked them in her sink until they became soft and pliable. While they soaked, she made the meat mixture and the cornmeal mixture. From what I remember, she used sausage, ground beef, and cayenne pepper for the meat, and basic cornmeal like White Lily or Martha White for the cornmeal mixture. No one has the recipe. She never wrote it down.

Basically, she made meatballs from the meat mixture, and cornmeal balls from the cornmeal mixture. She patted and flattened a cornmeal ball in the palm of her left hand, and placed a meatball in the center of it, then wrapped the cornmeal dough around the meatball, covering it completely.

She took sections of the softened husks and overlapped them, making a cradle for the tamale. When she had wrapped the tamale completely in cornshucks, that’s when the job of the grandchildren came in. We took turns sitting on a high kitchen stool while we held the shuck-covered tamale, tightly, by the ends. Grandma took thin strips of cornshuck and used them like string to tie each end and another around the middle.

She did this for hours. She made a batch of mild and a batch of hot. Then she cooked them in a pressure cooker.

I didn’t know that tamales were considered a Mexican dish until I was grown. I thought they were an East Tennessee dish. When I started doing genealogy, I found a pension file that showed that my grandmother’s Webb grandparents went to Johnson County, Texas, in 1881. After a few years they returned to East Tennessee. So I have an idea that my grandmother learned to make hot tamales from helping her grandmother, who had learned to make them while in Texas.

Years ago, my mother told us that our former neighbor, a woman named Amy, was a writer for Country Living, and had written an article about corn.  Amy included recipes in her article. One of the recipes was for hot tamales.

Tamales like these were made by the grandmother of a friend of mine when I was growing up in Tennessee. As she was not of Tex-Mex ancestry, I had no idea that tamales were “foreign” fare until much later in life!

Y’all? This was not my grandmother’s  recipe at all. I wrote a letter to Amy at the magazine and told her so. I never heard from her. Now that I have more age on me, I think that I looked like a jerk, because the spirit of the recipe is there. I just couldn’t see it.

Tamale Recipe from Amy Chatham Scotton0001Tamale Recipe from Amy Chatham Scotton0003

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2 Responses to “Grandma’s Hot Tamales”

  1. righteousbruin9 Says:

    I am a great fan of tamales, especially living in Arizona.

    Liked by 1 person

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