A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from September 23, 2006
Tamalero (tamale vendor)

A tamalero is a tamale vendor. The vendors were popular in Texas in the late 19th century.
24 November 1886, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 1:
The tamalero, on receiving what may prove to be his deathblow, fell senseless to the sidewalk, where a few minutes later he was picked up.
3 May 1887, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 5:
A Countryman Fatally Stabbed by a Tamale
Man—Crushed Under a Weight of Earth.
DALLAS, Tex., May 2.—About 8 o’clock tonight Emanuel Diaz, a tamalero, stabbed with a knife, probably fatally, a countryman named M. J. Milligan.
6 October 1890, Dallas Morning News, pg. 8:
A Chat With One of These Curious Street
Corner Merchants.
Juan Gonzales, a vender of chili con carne and tamales—the latter looking like poultices—is a Mexican far above the intelligence of his guild and is the inventor of a device for keeping his dishes warm. Juan, who is a cashiered Mexican army officer, speaks Spanish, of course, and is as garrulous as a barber. Dishing out a dime’s worth of tamales last night he discoursed about his business in the United States, saying, “Mexican dishes are rapidly coming in favor here because they are healthy, and in the interest of economy and reform. [This is a sort of city council translation of Juan’s Spanish.] You see, the garlic in them kills the worms; the pepper staves off malaria, and then the scraps of meat that are thrown away at dinner will make enough chile con carne or tamales for breakfast and supper and leave a few to pass around to the neighbors. When I came to Dallas six years ago there were only six tamaleros in the city, or town, as it then was; now there are bout fifty of us, and there is any amount of inquiry from Mexico about Dallas.”
“What does it cost to make tamales?”
“Well, we get our meat for about 3 1/2 cents a pound, our corn for .30 cents a bushel, lard costs about 10 cents a pound, and the corn shucks to wrap the meat in we can get at the feed stores for nothing. A dollar’s worth of raw material makes about $30 worth of tamales and a like amount of chile con carne. Where business is brisk it pays equal to a barroom without a license. Tamales sell better here and are less costly to make than in Mexico. Over there they are put up in this way: The corn is scalded with lime, which has the effect of destroying its bitter fibers. It is then ground in a metal, a sort of mortar made a ferruginous sterre. It is next mixed eith pork or chicken and seasoned with chile, garlic, oregano and caminos. [This is the seasoning described by Horace used at the table of the patricians in ancient Rome.] After which it is wrapped in a corn shuck and is then ready for cooking.
When I first came to Dallas I sold those regulation tamales, but Americans soon after went into the business and made a compound of cornmeal, red pepper and beef which seemed to answer just as well, and being cheaper would have run us out of the market if we had not resorted to the same cheap preparation. Chile con carne has been subjected to a like degeneration, and is made of cheap beef, chile and grease without seasoning. Notwithstanding this the consumption of both those articles has increased in Dallas even above its population. When I first came here the business did not run over $1000 a year; now it runs over $30,000 a year. A party of us are thinking of starting a regular Mexican restaurant here wit ha bill of fare consisting of chile con carne, tamales, tortillas, enchiladas, calrita and such drinks as pulque and mezcal. This is President Diaz’ bill of fare, and it is hard to beat. The trouble with American cooking is that it does not sit gently on the stomach in a hot climate. The grease with which it is saturated either leads to fat or dyspepsia, while in our cuisine the seasoning counteracts the grease and leaves the person thin and muscular, and with his stomach always stimulated and free from foreign organisms. you can travel all over the tierra caliente of Mexico without finding a fat man. And yet the people there are possessed of wonderful endurance, so much so that troops have frequently made fifty miles a day in forced marches and it used not to be an uncommon thing to see a man start out from Tuxpan or Tampico on a tramp of fifty miles with a sewing machine on his back. Buenos tardes, senor.”

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • Saturday, September 23, 2006 • Permalink

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