In transit from the Delta to Chicago, the Blues went
electric. The tamale made much the same move, carried by Delta natives
of African descent who traveled north during the Great Migration,
in search of better jobs and a more hospitable social climate. But
a funny thing happened on the way to Chicago. At some Southside
joints, the Mother in Law Sandwich became a specialty. Think of
a Chicago-style hotdog, smothered in peppers and onions. Then substitute
a tamale for the dog, and you begin to get the idea. Until we get
a chance to journey north and check out the scene, read the excerpt
below from our interview with Robert Stewart of Cleveland, Mississippi.
Robert lived in Chicago for twelve years, where he made and sold
his own hot tamales and remembers the mother-in-law sandwich.
for an online report from a fellow traveler.
*All photographs courtesy of Peter Engler. Thanks,
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.
Stewart’s Quick Mart
301 Delta Street
Cleveland, MS 38732
SUBJECT: Robert Stewart, owner & tamale-maker,
Stewart’s Quick Mart
DATE: June 23, 2005
LOCATION: Stewart’s Quick Mart-Cleveland, MS
INTERVIEWER: Amy Evans, SFA Oral Historian
Amy Evans: You sold tamales up in Chicago?
Stewart: We were in Chicago about twelve years…And then we
came back in [nineteen] seventy-four. I sold [tamales] all over
Chicago. When I was making them, I was making them. I couldn’t
A whole lot of people think it’s just very simple.
Everybody can’t make a hot tamale. I don’t care what
you do. It’s all about taste. See, with the spice in the dough
and the meat, then when it comes together it’s better. Because
when you first bite it, you’re going to bite the dough anyway,
so why not make the dough spicy. I used—I used to make my
dough red, when I was selling a whole lot of them, because it just
tastes better…I quit selling so many because I quit making
so many. I don’t make enough, but I still keep, you know,
good flavor, you know. Keep them red…It’s a—a
good product to make. A lot of people just sell in the wintertime.
They sell all the time!…But I used to sell a whole lot of
hot tamales in Chicago. I mean, a whole lot.
Have you heard about a sandwich up there called
the Mother-in-law sandwich that has a tamale in a bun?
It’s a lady up there that makes one--one hot
tamale. I mean, she sells one hot tamale in a bun, yeah. Um-hmm.
One hot tamale in a bun.
Do you know her name? Or the place where she
sells them out of?
I know it’s out in the suburbs. Man, I tell you what. I don’t
know. But she’s from down South. My brother-in-law introduced
me to her, and she made one big hot tamale. About like that [makes
hands into round shape about two, two-and-a-half inches in diameter]
Sold for two dollars….And then put it in a bun.
So she made it special for the bun—
--and made it extra big.
Yes, she do. For the bun…And she’d used
like ground beef. You know, like you put ground beef in cabbage?
You ever seen that?...Take the cabbage and put in on there. Well,
she did that. She’d take the hot tamales—she made them
special for it and put them in a bun. And they stayed together—mostly
meat, then a little dough—and two dollars each. [Laughs]
What’d she put on it, anything [else]?
No, but she usually put cheese on it.
See, I had a few with cheese. Taste pretty good. I
didn’t like it, but a whole lot of people like cheese. Like,
you know, make cheese—eat
a cheese hot tamale. I—I didn’t like it. I—I’d
make some of them. It wasn’t hard to do. It just didn’t
taste like—I didn’t like the taste of them. It’s
not a good idea. Because they put cheese on the hot tamale. Some
people like hot tamales, they put cheese over it, you know. Some
going to drown them pretty much in hot sauce before they eat it.
So I just—I just cook up a regular hot tamale. And, like I
say, I’ll put mine up against anybody’s.
I’m going to make a little more next week. Got
the Fourth of July coming up. And we’re having a family reunion,
so my sisters and brothers, they come from Chicago and everywhere
else. So I know what that means. One year they whipped the devil
out of me with these hot tamales. They wanted five-dozen to carry
back. They want you give them to them at that. So you know how that
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