On New Year’s Day, when many New Orleanians were nursing hangovers, Holly “Tamale” Hawthorne and Angela O’Neill Harbold were grocery shopping at Ideal Market, rinsing cornhusks, making mole sauce and otherwise prepping for the New Orleans Tamale Festival. In addition to co-founding the inaugural fest, the duo will sling tamales there.
“I roll pretty fast,” said Harbold, who plans to make 1,000 tamales for the festival. “I’ve been rolling them since birth, basically.”
The New Orleans Tamale Festival takes place from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 6 at Poor Boys Bar (1328 St. Bernard Ave.) and features tamales from eight small, homegrown vendors, including Mamita’s Hot Tamales. Admission is free.
“We’ll have American-style tamales, New Orleans-style, Mexican-style, Texas-style—everything from the Gulf region,” Hawthorne said. “Everybody is using tried-and-true recipes passed through their families for generations. This is their time to shine.”
“We’re keeping it as mom-and-pop as possible,” said Harbold, who works as a line cook at Brennan’s.
Harbold and Hawthorne found most of their vendors through word of mouth and barhopping. A quintessential food for late nights out, New Orleans-style tamales go hand-in-hand with the city’s bar culture and have deep roots in Louisiana, Hawthorne said.
“New Orleans is on what we call the Delta tamale trail,” Hawthorne said. “In the Gulf South area, ancient (native Americans’) diets were mostly corn, and they had tamales. And then a lot of the old Creole and black families had tamale shops all over New Orleans.”
Hawthorne has sold tamales at downtown bars from her hot pink bike cart since 2007. Harbold launched Medina’s Good Tamales as a pop-up two years ago and has a weekly gig selling tamales at Circle Bar from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays.
Both burlesque performers, Hawthorne and Harbold (whose stage name is Spooky LeStrange) met more than 10 years ago when they kept getting booked for the same shows. The duo discovered a shared affinity for tamales, and the seed for the New Orleans Tamale Festival was planted.
“When I found out Angela does tamales, I was all about her stuff,” Hawthorne said.
“And I’ve never met a tamale I could turn down,” Harbold added.
Hawthorne’s Zwolle-style tamales include red chili pork, red chili beef, chipotle chicken, vegan black bean and corn, roasted poblano pepper with corn and pepper jack cheese, and cinnamon and blueberry varieties. Her recipe originated with her grandmother’s step-grandfather, Jesse Ureste, a Mexican house painter.
“Tamales are something all the women in my family have done to make ends meet,” said Hawthorne, an Alexandria native.
Harbold’s recipes and business name come from her grandparents, Thomas Joseph Medina, who was Mexican, and Mary Verrette Medina, who was Creole. They sold tamales from their roadhouse in Raywood, Texas.
“This is me paying tribute to them and bringing the family business back, because I really like tamales,” Harbold said. “Before my grandmother passed, I got her recipe, but there’s no measurements — it’s all by taste. So I put in a handful of this, a pinch of this and keep tasting it until it tastes correct.”
Harbold makes duck confit, pork and beef, venison and vegan tamales, including a blackberry, lavender and vanilla bean dessert tamale. Prices at the festival range from $8 to $20 per dozen tamales.
There also will be music by Margie Perez, Dat Band and the Iguanas, cooking demonstrations and a tamale-eating contest. A tamale king and queen will be crowned after a costume contest and interview. To enter either contest, participants can Paypal $5 to email@example.com.
Harbold and Hawthorne chose to hold the family-friendly festival on 12th Night because it’s a traditional time for tamales.
“Everyone goes out to party and drink at the beginning of the Mardi Gras season — of course there will be tamales around,” Harbold said. “(The festival) combines tamale atmosphere with Mardi Gras atmosphere.”
“We want a nice party where we can sell our tamales,” Hawthorne said. “We’re always there when a good time is happening — we just wanted the good time to be about all of us this time.”
New Orleans Tamale Festival
WHEN: Noon to 6 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Poor Boys Bar
1328 St. Bernard Ave.