- Bettina Applewhite
Corona Chronicles: Trip to the Mississippi Delta and Memphis
The Mississippi Delta is a region of Northwest Mississippi between the Yazoo River and Mississippi River. It's rich in history and culture and of course food. The food isn't just Southern Food. It has soul. I grew up in the Mississippi Delta and Memphis, TN. I have fond memories of both and I'll debate anyone with the quickness about Memphis BBQ being the best there is.
I still have lots of family in the region. During the pandemic, I couldn't go visit them or the city. I had big plans for 2020 and traveling back to my roots and celebrating its great culture. I was very disappointed in not being able to spend time in the South. The best I could do was have the food that reminds me of home and spend phone calls and Zoom calls with family to stay connected. It was a tough time to not be able to see family, but the food is something that just isn't the same in other areas. Maybe it's in the water.
The Mississippi Delta has it's own style of tamales. I know them as hot tamales. They are simmered in spices instead of steamed like the traditional Latin ones. There's a little stand in Greenville, MS called Scott's Hot Tamales. It's about as big as a shack but there's lots of flavor coming out of that shack. I didn't even realize until I did a little research on these tamales that there's a big festival in the region with competitions and pageants for the Mississippi style of tamales. I've traveled throughout the United States and haven't found this style of tamale anywhere else except in Mississippi. For my culinary trip down memory lane, I tried to recreate these gems. It was not the same! I am definitely an amateur when it comes to making these Delta hot tamales. But it was a nice reminder of home.
These tamales take a lot of time and care in making them. I made mine with pork shoulder and some vegetarian ones made with sautéed mushrooms and red peppers. First cook and season the meat in spices like cumin, cayenne, paprika, onions, garlic, and chili powder. In order to wrap the tamales in corn husk, I had to soak the husks in water for a couple of hours so that they can be pliable. The dough was made of masa meal, vegetable shortening, and baking powder. The tamales had to be simmered for hours to get them nice and soft and cooked all the way through. It was an all day project full of memories of going up to a little shack to get hot tamales wrapped in newspaper.
Greens were a big part of my growing up. I had greens at least once a week. To me greens could mean any combination of collards, kale, turnip, or mustard greens slow simmered to make a delicious potlikker. Click here to read more about the history and recipe for greens and potlikker.
When I was still in elementary school and even pre-school a family friend would watch me while my parents worked. She made great Friday dinners and sold them. She was famous for her greens and I loved helping her pick them and get them ready for her to cook. In my head I was her assistant. I'm sure it was more of her keeping me busy, but I didn't mind the busyness at all.
In the South vegetables are a big part of the cuisine. It's typical to have an entrée with three or four different sides of vegetables and cornbread. There are a couple of different cafeteria style restaurants where vegetables shine as brightly as the main dishes. The great thing about vegetables are that they are usually great on the budget and filling to the tummy.
But the star of Memphis cuisine is Memphis BBQ! Memphis loves BBQ so much that there is an entire weekend long celebration and competition on who has the best BBQ. People come from all over the world to compete in the Memphis in May BBQ Festival. The world championship barbeque cooking competition is only a part of the month long international festival celebrating a different country each year.
When you're in love with BBQ, you start to come up with creative ways to enjoy it. Introducing BBQ spaghetti and BBQ nachos. I've never heard of BBQ spaghetti until I moved to Memphis. It's spaghetti with smoked pulled pork and a unique kind of BBQ sauce. It's nothing like the spaghetti and meatsauce that's Italian in it's routes. It's a totally different thing. Then there's BBQ nachos with pulled pork. It's not just pulled pork instead of ground beef. This dish has BBQ sauce and pickled jalapeños and a gooey cheese sauce. It's different from nachos you'll find at a Mexican restaurant but it's quite tasty. I made some so I could reminisce over great times in Memphis with friends and family and making so many memories. I'm so glad that we can get back to traveling and a life that we were used to.