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Delta Hot Tamale Fest Sets Greenville on Fire

Amy Evans and Susan Puckett
Amy Evans and Susan Puckett

Second annual event grew from one day to three.

By Laurie Triplette


Photos by Susan Puckett

Literary and culinary celebrities descended last week on Greenville when the legendary heart of the Mississippi Delta hosted its second annual Delta Hot Tamale Festival Thursday, October 17, through Saturday, October 19.

This year, the self-proclaimed Hot Tamale Capital of the World expanded the festival from one day to three.

Festivities caught fire (figuratively) on Day One with a “Literary/Culinary Mashup” dinner and book signing by 16 authors, held by moonlight at the J. C. Burrus House in nearby Benoit. The high-style antebellum Greek Revival house is known locally as the Baby Doll House for its role in the iconic Elia Kazan and Tennessee Williams film, Baby Doll.

Judging the entries
Judging the entries

Day Two featured a sold-out, tickets-only seminar exploring the link between food and storytelling and regional specialties. The day of presentations and panel discussions included more than 20 noted chefs, writers, and culinary celebrities such as Donald Link, Robert St. John, John Berendt (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), Julia Reed, Gayden Metcalf, and William Dunlap.

Two Ole Miss alumni, Amy C. Evans (chief architect of the Mississippi Hot Tamale trail) and Susan Puckett (Eat Drink Delta), also were on the panels, along with John Currence of City Grocery Group. Panelist Eddie Hernandez of Taqueria del Sol in Atlanta, won the inaugural celebrity chefs tamale competition.

Click here for the complete Literary/Culinary Mashup listing.

Humorist Roy Blount Jr provided a “blessing interlude” at the seminar luncheon on the 18th, and Southern Foodways Alliance presented a short Delta tamale film. The Friday evening activities culminated in a tamale street party, with music by Festival Express from Jackson.

3 Hot Ta'Mamas
3 Hot Ta’Mamas

More than 5,000 visitors attended the Day Three festivities that began Saturday morning with a hot tamale parade led by 94-year-old Festival Queen Juanita Turney, followed by the official festival blessing of the hot tamale, and presentation of the 2013 festival hot tamale court. Rachael Luckett, 20, a senior at the University of Southern Mississippi, was crowned Miss Hot Tamale at noon.

The day heated up despite chilly autumn temperatures, when 33 contestants from four states began cooking up their tamale creations for the Hot Tamale Cooking Competition. Simultaneously, the Mississippi Delta Community College (MDCC) culinary school provided tamale-cooking demonstrations while “Tales of the Hot Tamale” readings by Hank Burdine occurred on the Stein Mart Square front porch, and various musical groups played throughout the day on several stages.

The tamale has come a long way since its humble beginnings as field food for day laborers composed of kitchen leftovers wrapped in a cornmeal jacket. Participants at this year’s festival stuffed their masa and cornmeal tamales with everything from strawberries to seafood.

Menus full of goodness
Menus full of goodness

Jodie’s Hot Tamales of Greenville took home the Grand Prize as overall Hot Tamale Grand Champion, and as first-place winner of the Home Hots – Other Category. Papa Doc’s Big Fat Tamales of Jackson  won the Home Hots – Meats category. Hot Tamale Heaven of Greenville won the Commercial Meat category, and Hot Tamale Mama of Covington, Louisiana, won the Commercial – All Others category.

For two sure-fire Delta Hot Tamales recipes, check out this week’s On Cooking Southern column here.

Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian, and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ),Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA)  and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB). Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ web site: www.tripleheartpress.com and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter (@LaurieTriplette).

Tamale royalty
Tamale royalty

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