Wednesday, February 8

On the Tamale Trail: A 1906 News Item from the Yazoo Sentinel

Headline from the July 26, 1906, edition of the Yazoo Sentinel in Yazoo City, Miss.; tamale image by Amy Evans Streeter

A friend of the SFA, who happens to be researching the architectural history of Yazoo City, Mississippi, stumbled upon this gem of an article from the July 26, 1906, edition of the Yazoo Sentinel:

Manufactured in Vessels Used for Family Washing

Citizens of Yazoo who have been liberal patrons of the Mexican hot tamale vendors who cry their wares on the streets every evening will read the following from the Jackson News with a feeling of nausea:

"For several weeks a colony of Mexican hot tamale peddlers have been enjoying a thriving business in Jackson, but their business is likely to enjoy a sudden and very painful slump if the report in current circulation are o [sic] authentic nature.

"It is alleged that at the home of these Mexicans the housewife was discovered a day or so since in the act of washing her stockings in the self-same wooden bowl where the tamales are manufactured, and the premises were a scene of the mot [sic] indescribable filth.

"Stories of the Upton Sinclair variety are also told of the ingredients used in the manufacture of the tamale, which the patrons have hitherto regarded as so delicious and altogether appetizing. It is more than likely that the peddlers from the land of the Montezumas will have good reasons for complaining of dull business and seek out other localities for the disposal of their wares.

"This is even worse than the report from Chicago to the effect that it is customary to keep packing house chickens in cold storage for twelve years, and who knows but what our Mexican friends are importing their chickens from Chicago, with which they manufacture these tamales?"

* * *

While obviously preying on the paranoias that erupted after the publication of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, which was published the same year, and reflecting the sociopolitical climate of the time, this news item also sheds some fascinating light on the Delta's long history with tamales.

More than a century after this article went to print, tamales remain a vibrant part of the Delta's culinary fabric.