1920's Humble Tamale Pie
Just got finished reading a great book called Fashionable Food. It is seven
decades of food fads (mainly USA food) up until the 1990's. It has lots of
recipes and pictures of how kitchens were over the years. This sort of
thing is right up my alley! Keep in mind that the recipes listed were fads.
And it did say that most of the recipes were really pretty inedible but the
end result could be pretty such as the composed salads made to resemble
flowers dotted with tinted cream cheese. And here I found the 1920's Humble
Tamale Pie recipe. Yes, there is an American savory pie but... Why it is
called a pie is beyond me because I think it's more of a casserole than pie
although it does have layers.
I have made tamale pies over the years using a cornbread top crust. They
were okay but did not taste like a tamale. And neither did this. This
actually didn't taste very good to me at all. More like creamed corn gone
bad. Didn't have the texture of creamed corn mind you. Just oddly enough
the taste. And I like creamed corn but something just wasn't right with
And I did make a few mistakes. One being that I apparently can not judge
what half is. Put too much mush on the bottom and not enough on top.
Didn't seem to matter once it was slopped on the plate. Two being that I
didn't measure my tomatoes and may have put too many in. I used two 14.5 oz
cans. Probably should have gone with 1.5 cans or better still some other
form of tomato product because this wasn't so great in there. Then I put in
too much chili powder which my husband probably liked because there is no
amount of heat that is too much for him. It was just a wee bit more than I
liked but not so much that it left me screaming. I wound up tossing that
bottle of chili powder. It was a cheap brand and all clumped. And not much
left in it so I just tossed it. I have more and better stuff. Oh and I
used Bob's Red Mill corn meal. I had never tried it before and it seemed a
bit coarser than I am used to. Perhaps should have used Alber's instead?
The end result? Extremely filling! I only ate perhaps 12 bites of the
stuff and it sat in my stomach like lead. Served with plain pinto beans on
the side and some canned Spanish rice. Yeah the rice wasn't too good either
but it was cheap at Big Lots and I figured from the aroma that this thing
gave off while baking that I would be needing something additional. At
least the beans were good! Heh! But as I described this to my mom, she
said it sounded just like a dish that her mom made when she was a kid. It
is very economical and my mom came from a big family so I can see how this
would fit the bill there. Here is the recipe if you are so inclined.
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon butter or mild vegetable oil
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cups canned tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 teaspoons chili powder or to taste
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir 1 cup of the water and the salt into the
cornmeal in a large saucepan. Bring remaining 2 cups water to a boil and
stir into the cornmeal mixture. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly,
until thick. Line a buttered 9 inch square baking dish (I used my big blue
cornflower Pyrex) with half of the mush.
Melt butter in skillet. Fry beef and onion until meat is lightly browned
and onion is soft. Drain excess fat. Add tomatoes and seasonings and cook
for a few minutes. Note that I had to cook for more than a few. Even
though my tomatoes did not appear to have much juice, it sure did come out
of them as they cooked. I did buy pre-chopped so perhaps the whole would
have been better and I would chop them. That is most likely what they had
in those days. Taste and correct the seasoning. Pour meat mixture over the
mush and top with the rest of the mush. Bake until browned, 35 to 40
minutes. Mine actually took a bit less but most likely because I didn't
have enough mush on the top. And it gave off a lot of liquid despite being
cooked down after the tomatoes were added for close to 20 min.
I doubt that I will make this again. But if I do, I will likely add some
chilies or something to amp up the flavor. Perhaps add them to the mush.
And use another form of tomato product like sauce or salsa. Heck, I might
even forgo the mush and just use creamed corn. But then it will be even
less tamale-like and in no way will be a pie but... It might taste better.
I have used creamed corn in my enchilada casserole because it gives a bit of
a creamy texture that otherwise would be missing due to my not being able to