(Formerly, The Shanty)
3806 HWY 61 North
Cleveland, MS 38732
I already knew how to make tamales [from]…watching
a friend of mine’s grandmother [make them]. [Hers] are tied
at both ends…folded at both ends. And these are left open
at the [one] end, and they sit up in the pot. The other ones, you
lay them down in the pot. – Tamara Calhoun
Jonathan Vance, a native of Benoit, Mississippi, owns Airport Grocery in Cleveland, Mississippi. When he
opened the restaurant in 1992, Jonathan wanted to honor the Delta
hot tamale tradition. His grandfather was a friend
of renowned tamale-maker Joe Pope of Joe’s Hot Tamale Place,
a.k.a. White Front Café, in Rosedale. Mr. Pope was generous
enough to share his expertise with the Vance family. Pope’s
tamale recipe has been used since the beginning. Tamara Calhoun makes the tamales for Airport Grocery according to Joe Pope’s
NOTE: When this interview was conducted, Jonathan Vance operated two restaurants in Cleveland: Airport Grocery on Highway 8 and The Shanty on Highway 61. Today, Vance operates just Airport Grocery, which is in the old Shanty location on Highway 61.
to this 2-minute
audio clip of Tamara Calhoun talking about her process of making
hot tamales. [Windows Media Player required. Go here
to download the player for free.]
What follows is a portion of the original interview
that has been edited for length. To download the entire transcript
in PDF form, please click here.
Subject: Tamara Calhoun, tamale
maker, The Shanty Restaurant-Cleveland, MS
Date: June 23, 2005
Location: The Shanty’s kitchen-Cleveland,
Interviewer: Amy Evans
Amy Evans: This is Amy Evans for the Southern
Foodways Alliance on Thursday, June twenty-third, 2005. And I'm
in Cleveland, Mississippi, at The Shanty Restaurant & Grapeland
Store with Tamara Calhoun, the tamale maker here. Tamara, would
you mind saying your name for the record, please ma'am?
Tamara Calhoun: Tamara Calhoun.
And are you from Cleveland [Mississippi] originally?
No, ma'am. I'm from Shelby, Mississippi…Well,
I actually still live in Shelby; I just work in Cleveland [Shelby
is about sixteen miles north of Cleveland].
may I ask your age and your birth date, too, so we can have that?
I'm thirty-one years old, and my birthday is November
the seventh, 1973.
Okay. And how long have you been working here
at The Shanty?
Two years on the seventh of next month [July 2005].
And you're the tamale maker here.
Did you learn here on the job, or did you
know how to make them before?
Learned on the job…I already knew how to make
tamales. Everybody makes them different so--
How did you learn to make them originally?
Watching a friend of mine’s grandmother…She
used—I think she used pork.
Do you know how she learned to make tamales?
No, I don't. [Laughs]
No? Do you have an idea about tamales in the
Mississippi Delta--where that tradition came from and how it stuck?
Um-umm. No, I do not.
Do you make hot tamales at home?
No, I buy them from somebody else…from my friend’s
Well when you came here, what was different
about the way they told you to make hot tamales?
Instead of--of using pork, they use ground beef. That's
the only difference.
Okay. And they're--they're made in shucks
And they tie them different. Like the other ones are
tied at both ends like—well [tried demonstrating with the
tamale she has in her hand] I can’t do it like that, but it
was folded at both ends. And these are left open at the [one] end,
and they sit up in the pot. The other ones, you lay them down in
Okay. And can you talk a little bit about
the process from beginning to end--how you start?
Okay. Yes, okay we boil the ground beef and once the
ground beef is boiled, you know, we strain it and we add red pepper,
chili powder, and cay--and a cup of garlic to the meat and tomato
sauce, and we mix that together. And we put the broth from the ground
beef back on the stove and let it come to a boil, and we mix it
with the corn meal, which we call masa, which is corn meal, chili
powder and salt. And that--that's it. And we let it sit overnight
until the flavor is settled in, and then I come to work the next
morning, and I begin to—well, no. After I finish with the
masa, I have to soak the shucks a little while, and from there,
the next morning
I come in and they're ready for the--to be rolled out. Now at first
we used to roll them by hand. You know, put the masa down first
and then the ground beef and roll them up. But Jonathan [Vance.
Owner of The Shanty and Airport Grocery] bought me the Tamale King
[extruder], which is much easier. [Short laugh] Then we put the
masa in the first cylinder and the ground beef in the middle cylinder,
and we press the handle, and it comes out in a roll like this [shows
interviewer the extruded masa and meat resting in a corn shuck,
ready to be rolled]…The meat is in there--in the middle.
How long have you had that [extruder] machine?
About a year.
Yeah, so when you first came here you were
doing it all by hand?
How many do you make in a day when you make
Today, I should have around--it should be around a
hundred--hundred dozen. Yeah, about a hundred,
So you're a big fan of the Tamale King [extruder]?
Yes. [Laughs] Yes, ma'am.
Now when you say--back to preparing them,
when you say masa, do you use--with the masa meal do you use lard
or do you use some other binder or--?
we just use the broth out of the--of the ground beef and add it
to the--the cornmeal, chili powder, and salt--that's it.
Is there a brand of masa that you use?
No, you use regular cornmeal. White—regular
white, self-rising cornmeal.
Okay. And how do you personally like to eat
tamales? Do you like it with a cracker or you like--?
Basically by themselves. I add a little more hot sauce.
They already, you know, kind of spicy, but I love spicy food, so
I add a little hot sauce to them, and I eat them like that. But
I have tried them with mustard. A lady came here and she told me
[Laughs]--she said to add a little mustard, and I tried it, and
I kind of liked it.It gave it a little zing.
That's the first I've heard of that.
But everybody else eats ketchup with theirs, but I
tried it with the mustard, and I kind of liked it. Oh, I tried it
with Ranch dressing; it was all right.
Do they have fried tamales here at The Shanty?
No, I've never heard of those…For real?...I
never heard of them; I might try them.
So what else can you tell me about tamale
Well it’s—it’s not a whole lot.
They're very popular, though.
Yeah, you sell a lot of them here?
sell--most of them--we sell a whole lot of them at the Airport [Grocery,
which is another restaurant in Cleveland, owned by the same man,
Jonathan Vance], but we sell quite a bit here, too. But they're
mostly--you know, I make them for here and Airport [Grocery], and
we sell most of them at Airport [Grocery].
And you make them just on Thursdays?
No, I make them on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
So are there some other places in the Delta
that have hot tamales--I know your friend in Shelby, but are there
any other places you go to that have tamales that you like?
Yes, there's--there's quite a few of them…I
don't think--they not as good as ours, though, but they do them.
Yeah, like what kind of places and where?
I can't think of none of them places--over there across
from Super Value [John’s Homestyle Hot Tamales in Cleveland],
they sell hot tamales and--I can't think of the name of the other
place either, but I know where they are. I don't go there, but I
know where they are and they sell them. They're not that good And
I’ve eaten some in Rosedale—no, these were made out
of someone's house. Seems like mostly everybody makes them up in
their houses out here.
Yeah, so what makes these different—different,
do you think, from everybody else's?
All our ingredients are fresh and we make them daily.
the only way to do it, from scratch.
And they—uh-huh, they're made with tender loving
care! [Laughs] Yeah.
Well, would you say maybe you have a style about tying your bundles
or wrapping your shucks or anything like that--kind of the way--I
guess, the machine kind of has its way with the amount of what you
put in a tamale but--
No, you have to estimate yourself. It just comes out. And you have
to estimate where to stop it at. I’m so used to doing it,
it just--You know exactly when to stop and--and most of them, they
come out the same length.
So what time did you say you get here in the
morning to start making them--about six?
Okay, well, like, I use one day to prepare them because,
you know, they have to sit overnight. So on Thursday and Friday,
you know, I come in around six [in the morning], and I start, and
usually by eleven I'm finished, and I got anywhere between eighty-five
to a hundred dozen.
So you stand here for those hours and you
use your machine, fill the tamales in the shucks, and then come
over here, fold the bottoms, tie them with string--
Yes. And oh, I bag them up; I put five dozen in each
bag, and I freeze them until they be ready to come pick them up.
Okay. So after you tie all these bundles,
though, you'll be steaming them in a pot?
Yes. I don't have a pot on yet but yeah, we steam
them in a pot. And they boil for like--they steam about forty-five
minutes. No, we boil them for about thirty minutes, and then we
let them sit there and simmer for about thirty minutes.
Do you add anything to the water when you're
Because I came across a guy yesterday who
puts the seasoning in the water.
Yeah. Do you have an opinion
about using the corn shucks over parchment paper--people who changed
over to parchment paper?
I never—I never heard of that paper. I'm so
used to corn shucks, I don't know anything but corn shucks.
Well you think you're going to hang out here as a tamale maker for
The Shanty and Airport Grocery for a while?
Yes, ma'am. Love it to death, sure do.
All right then. Well any final thoughts about
your job here?
No. Sometimes it gets kind of hectic, when I be running
back and forth but other than that, it’s pretty good. They
sell pretty well, so no complaints here.
All right. Well, I appreciate you talking
To download the entire transcript in PDF form, please
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