Origin of calling sloppy joe "hot tamale".

I recall that when I was a kid in the 60’s my Ma would call sloppy joes “hot tamales”.
So would my Grandmother, my Aunt, etc., etc… Nobody could ever explain this and I just assumed they were dopey about understanding what a tamale actually was.

Today I was thinking about that and looked up Sloppy Joe on Wiki. I damn near fell over when I read this:

U.S. variations on the term

*Hot Tamales in parts of southeastern Wisconsin, particularly in the Sheboygan area despite the fact that tamales are a completely different food item.

My mother and her family are, in fact, from the Sheboygan area.

So whats the straight dope on this. Wiki doesn’t explain any further. There must be a reason. Perhaps a restaurant in the area that called them that. what gives?

I found an obscure reference to someone serving a open-face sloppy joe on a cornbread filling. This would approximate the look and chew of a tamale. At least to people in Wisconsin.

I maintain that you have no business opening or eating at a Mexican restaurant unless you are in a state that borders Mexico, has access to Mexcian foodstuff and/or Mexican chefs.

For some reason that doesn’t surprise me about Sheboygan, home of the “brat fry.”

In the land where they call drinking fountains “bubblers”, I’m not surprised.

My dad was from the Sheboygan area, and indeed we called the Sloppy Joe a “hot tamale” also.

I’ve no idea why, and was musing over that just the other day as I consumed a real tamale.

I will say that mexican migrant workers were present in that area back in the 1930’s and possibly earlier, and my dad enjoyed visiting them and mooching food from them regularly, tiring of competing with his 11 sibs for white bread, kidney sandwiches, and pork brains. So he had access to genuine mexican cuisine, far from the border

BTW, you haven’t lived until you’ve tried an “Oostburger”, which is a bratwurst on a hamburger patty, all on a hard roll.

Actually that’s not that big of a mystery.

The Kohler Company at one time did produce a water fountain that was named Bubbler. The name is trademarked.

About 60 miles away (1970s Neenah, WI), my family had a sloppy joe-like regular dish we called “Spanish hamburgers” (made in a West Bend electric skillet, On Wisconsin!). This was just my family though, at school, they were always called sloppy joes in the cafeteria.

My mother’s “Chicken enchiladas” also had very little resemblance to real enchiladas. It was basically a casserole dish with flat tortillas between layers of cheese and chicken and canned chile peppers. At least it was “Mexican” in style. :slight_smile:

This must really be confined to the Sheboygan area. I grew up in and around Milwaukee and never once heard of Sloppy Joes called hot tamales.
I’m pretty sure that as a kid if someone asked what a hot tamale was we would have told them it was cinnamon flavored mike&ikes

In the school district in southern Sheboygan county that my wife used to work at, she was quite disappointed to discover that what the school cafeteria menu billed as a “hot tamale” was merely a sloppy joe. And this was within the past decade.

I’m from Sheboygan and I wasn’t aware that hot tamale and sloppy joe were even the same thing. I knew that it wasn’t really a tamale, but I was unaware until now that I’d even had a sloppy joe (though that may partially be because sloppy joes seem to usually be served on a bun and I just eat the meat with a fork).

So what do Sheboyganites call “actual” hot tamales? Do they ever get one when they really want the other?

Well, Sheboygan now has a thriving hispanic community, with mexican restaurants and grocery stores, so the opportunity to get a genuine tamale is there now. I expect some Sheboyganite may have been dragged to such an exotic dining establishment, and ordered the tamale expecting to get a ‘safe’, conventional Sheboygan sloppy joe. But I don’t know of any actual cases.

Enchiladas are often made that way in New Mexico. I’m not sure if the recipe predates Anglo settlement of the area, but some of the families who make them that way almost certainly do.

Here in Arkansas we call that chicken enchilada casserole.

FYI, I’ve called on the expertise of a lead investigator for the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center, to look into this issue further. This particular individual has done a bang-up job for me (and for Ferret Herder) in the past, solving a number of mysteries.

Further bulletins as information warrants.

Using my historic newspaper database, you can find Sheboygan school menus from the 1970s where some schools will have “sloppy joe” on the menu that week and others will have “tamale pie,” both being the same thing. Pretty indigenous to that general area.

Around the 1930s, “tamale pie” recipes started to be offered around the country. The basic meat/tomato sauce/spices versions were about the same as what turned into the “sloppy joe” sandwich. The term “sloppy joe” for the meat mixture actually comes a bit later than “hot tamale.”

The earliest I could find a reference to “hot tamale sandwich” was 1937, in the Sheboygan Press, a story about a group from Mission House college going roller skating and eating “hot tamale sandwiches.”

I think I can give somewhat of an explanation for using “hot tamale” in this way. “Hot tamale” was used with several meanings by people who had never seen or tasted Mexican food. These uses of the term were probably more common, say, sixty years ago, but there are doubtlessly people who still use them this way. Before explaining these uses, let me emphasize that I would never use the term in these ways. Indeed, it would make me uncomfortable even to hear someone use the term in any of these ways.

Some people say, “Hot tamale!” just as a way of saying “Oh, wow!”. Some would use it to mean “a funny person, particularly a very enthusiastic one.” Some would use it to mean “a beautiful woman” (i.e., the same as we now use “hot” to describe such a woman). Some would use it for a man in the same way.

All these uses were by people who only vaguely knew anything about Mexican food. They vaguely knew that it was spicy. I suspect then that what happened in Sheboygan is that someone made a tamale pie which was sort of making a tamale in a pie pan. When they thought to make a similar sort of food which was a sandwich, they remembered the term “hot tamale” and called it that.

Wiki says somewhere in the 1930’s, as well, for “Sloppy Joe” from a bar/restaurant of the same name in Key West.

If you go to Northern New Jersey, things get even more confused. Sloppy Joes refer to a type of deli sandwich.

There is absolutely NO proof that what much of the US knows as a sloppy joe sandwich has anything to do with the bar from Cuba. I actually think it doesn’t.

BTW, there is NO print cite for the term “sloppy joe” to mean a sandwich made from meat with tomato sauce in the 1930s. Doesn’t exist.

I was hoping you wouldn’t bring that up. But, hey, it’s NJ. Whaddayouwant?