Scott’s Hot Tamales
304 Martin Luther King Blvd.
Greenville, MS 38703
[My children] grew up with making hot tamales.
They would go to school. When they'd come from school, I'd have
the ingredients, and they'd pitch in and help me finish them. – Elizabeth Scott
In 1941, Mississippi natives Aaron and Elizabeth Scott
called San Antonio, Texas, home. Aaron served in the U. S. Army.
During their time in Texas, Elizabeth developed a taste for hot
tamales. Rather than keep buying them, Aaron decided they should
try making them at home, so he bought a tamale recipe from a local
Mexican man. The first time they tried making tamales in their own
kitchen, Elizabeth and her husband worked for sixteen hours through
the night. They didn’t even have a dozen hot tamales when
they were finished. When they moved back home to Mississippi in
1950, they had perfected their recipe and their craft enough to
start a side business selling them on Nelson Street in downtown
Greenville. Aaron Scott passed away in 1987. Elizabeth retired from
the tamale business in 2001 at age seventy-eight. But six of their
nine children--and even some grandchildren--are carrying on the
family business. Today, Scott’s Hot Tamale stand can be found
on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Greenville. The location has
changed, but their corn shuck-wrapped beef brisket hot tamales remain
*Elizabeth Scott was awarded the 2007 Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award by the Southern Foodways Alliance. Part of this recognition includes a cash award, as well as the production of a short film, Rolling Tamales on MLK, documenting her six decades in the tamale business.
to this 3-minute audio
clip of Elizabeth Scott talking about her late husband, Aaron
Scott, got his hot tamale recipe. [Windows Media Player required.
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: Elizabeth Scott, owner,
Scott’s Hot Tamales-Greenville, MS
Date: June 30, 2005
Location: Scott’s tamale kitchen - Metcalf,
Interviewer: Amy Evans
Amy Evans: This is Amy Evans on Thursday,
June thirtieth, 2005 and I'm in Metcalf, Mississippi, with Elizabeth
Scott at her home. And it's a tamale-making day here [the Scott
family makes tamales in a special kitchen adjacent to Mrs. Scott’s
residence]. And they have the Scott's Tamale Stand in Greenville.
Mrs. Scott would you mind saying your name, and also if you don't
mind sharing your birth date for the record, so we can have it?
Elizabeth Scott: Elizabeth W. Scott; my birthday is
July 11, 1923.
you from the Delta originally?
Yeah, I was born in Benoit, Mississippi…And
I moved here in 1950 in Metcalf. And I've been here ever since.
We started the business--my husband [Aaron Scott] got the recipe
in Texas and we started. But the recipe we had we just had to continue
adding ingredients until we got it where it is now today.
Yeah, changing it and making it your own.
Change and make it today's. So we've been in business
ever since we moved here--and started the business in Greenville,
and we've been there ever since. And we make them here in Metcalf.
Did your husband get the recipe after y'all
had already been married?
Yeah, we married in [nineteen] forty-one. He got the
recipe in [nineteen] forty-five.
And was he in the--what military service was
In the Army…Well, he was stationed in San Antonio
when he got the recipe, but he was moving around in different areas.
He went overseas and everything.
So what made him even want a tamale recipe,
do you remember?
Because I loved them and bought--he had to buy so
many. And I was pregnant, so he said it would be best to make them
than continue to buy them. So that's where we started off making
hot tamales then.
And so had you grown up eating hot tamales
No, I started eating hot tamales after I got married
in [nineteen] forty-one. And then when he got out of the service
in [nineteen] forty-five, and we started with the recipe and started
So the first hot tamale you had was in Texas
So had--did you--were you aware of hot tamales
in the Delta at all before?
Yeah, I knew about the hot tamales because there was
a couple of people in Greenville that used to sell them and we used
to go to the movie in Greenville and get the hot tamales. I would
eat hot tamales during the movie, and we'd get hot tamales to take
Do you remember where in Greenville those
stands were back in that time?
Well, at that time it was on North Street in Greenville.
Would you happen to remember the names of
the places at all?
No, because it was a man named Charlie, but all--all
the people what I knew them has done passed on.
Okay. And were they all African Americans
who served them back then?
Yeah, they was African Americans.
Do you remember how much they cost back then?
Well, back then they wasn't but twenty-cents a dozen.
[Laughs] So they--you know they improved a lot since then. But that's
the way it was back then; it was back in the [nineteen] forties.
So were the tamales that you had in Texas--how
were they different, if at all?
Well in Texas they was--they was okay, but you didn't
see no meat in them. You just seen the meal and a red streak down
the center of them. So but they--the flavor was good. But they wasn't
like the--the ones we make now.
Were they pork tamales out there [in Texas]?
Well I don't know what kind--they didn't have no meat
them; it was just a red streak down this--. [Laughs] But it didn't
look like none--taste like no meat, so I don't know. I guess they
just seasoned some kind of sauce in it.
So what did your husband have to do to get
his hands on a recipe?
Well he bought it from a man, but I didn't know what
his name was 'cause I had done came back home during the time he
got the recipe. And so he brought it, and we sit down and tried
it out, and then we continued to add ingredients and fixing it up.
So it didn't taste like the Mexican hot tamales.
Is the man that he bought the recipe from,
was he Mexican?
Yeah, he was a Mexican.
Okay. Do you have any idea how much he paid
for the recipe, or would you be willing to share?
No, I don't because I wasn't--you know I didn't ask
all those questions. I was just happy to get the recipe to start
to making the hot tamales.
when you--you got the recipe and--and do you remember the first
time that you tried to cook them?
The first time we tried to make them it was taking
us from twelve o'clock that day until four o'clock the next morning,
and we didn't make a dozen. [Laughs] So it's taken us a long time,
but we worked with it and worked with it until we got the--like
we wanted it…And so now the children has continued it on.
I done retired from it.
Well when you--when you perfected the recipe
and learned how to make them and got all that straight, and you
were making them to satisfy your craving that you were talking about,
then was it soon after that you decided that it could be a business?
Yeah. Yeah, when he was--he started to sell them in
Benoit [Mississippi] and Scott [Mississippi]. And Lamont [Mississippi]--around
in the area in Bolivar County.
Your husband, would he have like a--a truck
that he would take around to all these places and just set on--?
Well, he had a station wagon and a cart, like that
over there [points to an old wooden push-cat in the corner of the
room]. That's one of the first carts; we're still using it…And
so after then, he had carts with--with wheels on it. And then we
decided to buy a place--a stand; so that's where we at now--with
a stand. But we moved from Nelson Street to Martin Luther King Drive.
Okay. How long ago did you move?
Well it--I don't recall how long it's been since--but
it--I think we've been--how long we've been over--? [Asks her daughters,
who are in the room with us, making tamales.] Six years they're
saying, yeah…Well, six years at that place, but before then
we was on Nelson Street.
Was the actual stand the same and you just
moved it, or did you build a new one?
Just moved it to another location.
And what--what has it been like selling hot
tamales in this town specifically because there are an awful lot
of hot tamales in Greenville?
Yeah, I know. But I guess everybody got a different
taste. The ones that like ours buy ours and the ones that like the
others buy the others, so it's no different, you know.
When you and your husband had the stand, were
y'all there every night or just on weekends or how did that work?
Well at that time, it was seven days a week we was
up there. But since it's been there they decided to change the hours,
and they still--be seven days a week.
And when you and your husband came back here
and had the stand, was that all y'all were doing or was that just
supplementing other income?
No, he was a carpenter. He worked for Greenville Lumber
Company. And myself and the children carried the business on and
all, until he got of [retirement] age, and then he decided to stop
and help. So he helped a while until he passed.
And what year did he pass?
In nineteen—oooh, eighty-seven.
And how many children do you have--Loretta
[who is sitting next to the interviewer, rolling tamales] and who
Well, I have nine children…And all of them in--working
in the business but three.
So they just grew up knowing everything about
Grew up with--with making hot tamales. They would
go to school. When they'd come from school, I'd have the ingredients,
and they'd pitch in and help me finish them.
Have you always had a lot of people helping
you or has this--because the family's grown--?
My family and my daughter-in-law and the children—well,
they all--the family, the children. Well, I got a couple granddaughters
that help…Uh-hmm, well my oldest son helps.
Yeah? Can you talk a little bit about maybe--has
the--the process of making them changed over the years for you personally?
Like before you were doing everything or certain things and now
everybody is kind of--?
Well, since they all got grown and grown up they--they
works, and I stay in the front
[in the part of the house where she lives]. They stay back here
carrying the work on; they sells them and everything.
When did you retire from it?
About four years ago.
Do you miss it at all?
No, I don't miss it. [Laughs] No, I don't miss it.
Do you still like eating tamales?
Well I start back to eating them every once in a while,
but I got—after everything I found out I'm a diabetic, and
I can't have all those spices and things. But I eat some every once
in a while. But while I was eating them, I got my full of them.
Yeah, I believe it. [Laughs] Have you tasted
around any other places in Greenville or any other places in the
Delta that have hot tamales?
No, I haven't…because I mostly be, you know,
at home all the time. I wouldn't be out around the other places.
Well, a lot of--the history that--that is
kind of the general consensus of how hot tamales got to the Delta,
I'm finding out is not really always the case. Because a lot of
people talk about some migrant labor came in--in the [nineteen]
twenties and 'thirties for a big cotton harvest, and a lot of Mexican
laborers came in and brought tamale recipes with them then. And
then the African American community in the Delta has maintained
that tamale making tradition, but here--.
They all taste different.
They're all different, and I'm finding out
that people have gotten recipes from California and Arkansas and
all over, so it's a lot more varied than I ever imagined. And I
understand that there's--that you make these with beef brisket.
Right, beef brisket….And we use corn shucks.
Yes. And it’s a very labor-intensive
process with the corn shucks with somebody trimming them and cleaning
them over there and--?
Right. And some washing them and that's the way we
And how much do you charge for a dozen tamales
That still seems awful cheap. For all this
Yeah, it is. Yeah, they [are] cheap for all the work
you put in. But see, people don’t know how much work you put
in…And they think they [her children] don't work or do nothing.
Everybody says, "Oh you work?" So it's a lot of work in
I understand that Wednesdays and Thursdays and sometimes Mondays,
they--that there's tamale making going on?
They—yeah. They be working. But so far it's
nice. Since we got the recipe and started in business we've got
some trophies and different things for, you know--for the hot tamales
and things--competition. So it's real nice. We got the People's
Choice Award. In Greenville. [At the World Championship Hot Tamale
Contest, which happens every summer.]
And do you hear about these folks who make
turkey tamales and chicken tamales and all that?
Yeah, we have made—since we’ve been making
hot tamales, people request for chicken hot tamales. And when we
first started to make them back in the fif--in the [nineteen] forties,
it’s some people required to make some deer hot tamales…So
we've made--they have fixed them--whatever kind they wanted, that's
what we would use to make them--make them for them--for them, but
we didn't make them, you know, to sell to nobody else.
Did you ever taste any of those as you made
Yeah, they taste almost the same. It's just different
meat in them.
Yeah, it's all about the spice really, right?
The spice--the spice, yeah.
And when you--when you cook the tamales do
you simmer them or steam them or--because I--everybody does them
different. I wonder--?
No, you just cook them so many hours, you know. You
cook them so many hours and that's it…And put the juice on
them, and they ready…But the hardest job is making them. [Laughs]
yeah. No, I--I definitely know that. I'm really admiring your process
here. How long have you had a machine--this extruder machine?
Well we got the machine in [nineteen] seventy and
had one since then, but before then we used a spatula to spread
the meal and a fork for the meat. That's the way we had to put the
meal--spread the meal. And then someone would put the meat on them,
and then they rolled them. So that's the way we started off making
them. So after then we got the machine.
Did you ever think you'd be making this many
No, I didn't. When we first started, I didn't think,
you know, it would continue on. So it's up to them to keep it going.
And does everybody in here know the recipe
pretty intimately, or is it something that you and your daughters
kind of hang on to?
No, well they--they've got it pretty good…Uh-hmm.
When one be out the other one take over; it's always someone to
take over when they be doing the meats. And they young, so. It all
come out the same.
So do you hope that these women here will
keep making tamales for generations to come?
Well it's left up with them, you know about that.
Maybe they grandchildren will take it over. Right now the children
got it but maybe after they stop maybe the grandchildren will keep
it going on…Because see, most of the young children now don't
want to do hard work like older ones did.
Yeah. And it is really labor intensive. Well
do you have any ideas about hot tamales in the Delta? Just how long
they've been around or where they came from or any of that?
No. I--I don't know because back in the--in the [nineteen]
forties, that's when I found out about the hot tamales and decided
to come into Greenville. They ate them in Greenville, but they didn't
have any where I was located at. And so I don't know how long they
had been making them.
Have you ever heard of people frying hot tamales?
Yeah, they fry some every once in a while…Uh-hmm,
they be trying out different things. They make hot tamale casserole,
Has anybody ever offered to buy your recipe
or to open another Scott's Tamale Stand or anything?
Well it's quite a few people who bought recipes, but
they did nothing with it. After they found out it was hard work,
they dropped it.
Oh, really. So you've sold the recipe before
And they find out what it takes [to make them]!
[Laughs] They find out what it takes to make them,
and they don't--they did nothing with it.
Yeah, well this is an impressive operation
you have here, definitely. And it's--it's amazing that there's that
much history in this one room of hot tamale making. It's really
But maybe one day the business will get--be larger
than it is now.
Yeah. You'd like to see that happen? Like
a big manufacturing operation and you can wholesale to stores and
No, just a larger place--a larger place than this.
To make them in?
Okay. What--is there something that you need
that you don't have here that you--that would make it easier?
No, just more room.
All right. Well it's been lovely visiting
with you. Thank you so much.
Uh-hmm, nice talking with you.
To download the entire transcript in PDF form, please
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