You may not realize what a cultural icon the lowly tamale is. But it has been recognized with it's own marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail, because tamales played such a big roll in the themes of blues songs.
But today, we dig deeper, and visit Greg Harkins in Madison County, who does tamales in more different ways than anybody else I know of.
That blues trail marker is at the White Front Café in Rosedale, in the heart of the Delta, and chronicles just some of the influence the tamale has had on blues music.
For various reasons and from various ethnic groups, the tamale has had a profound influence on the culinary customs of the Delta.
And the relatively skinny little tamale that fits neatly in a corn shuck was all I knew about until one night we were invited out of one of Greg Harkins' get-togethers at his house between Canton and Yazoo City, and Greg showed us what tamale was all about.
First thing that came out of mine was a butter bean. And it just got more interesting from there.
"Well, when I first started doing this, I was making tamales like I knew to make tamales" said Harkins. "And I had little skinny little tamales and you'll work yourself to death. And I took a vacation and went down to Mexico and I went on the great tamale hunt. And I probably ate, or at least ordered, some of them you look at and you go, ooh I don't think I'm gonna eat that. But I probably ate, I'd say 60 different tamales."
The fact that there are 60 different kinds of tamales at least may come as a shock to us who were raised on delta tamales. But when you get to thinking about it, there can be as many different kinds of tamales as there are cooks making them, each with their own variations. And I also figure there can be as many different tamales as you have things left in your refrigerator that you'd like to re-configure before you just throw 'em out.
"And when you throw 'em down like that, it seals them" said Harkins.
Greg made 'em up with shrimp, deer meat, as the contributor looked on; more traditional fillings, less traditional fillings, and my favorite, butterbeans.
Throw them on a plate with steaming hot cheese grits loaded down with powdered garlic and Velveeta, and it makes you glad you grew up with tamales, and makes you wish Greg would invite you over more often on these cold winter evenings.