Tamale Pie

Don’t have masa handy? Here’s an option.

Remember when we talked about nixtamalized corn yesterday in the tortillas post? The mashed nixtamalized corn, or masa, is the traditional filling for tamales, and the treatment helps the corn to form the dough-like texture needed to fill tamales. But the difficulty of acquiring fresh masa in many places resulted in the development of the tamale pie, a casserole iteration of the dish. It’s a bit like a baked polenta.

Here’s a version from the December 21, 1923 edition of The (St. Petersburg, Florida) Evening Independent:

Tamale Pie For A Filling Luncheon

Tamale pie is an unknown quantity to the average cook, and may be, we fancy, of many varities. This tamale is well seasoned, but not peppery.

Apart from the pleasure of eating it, it is a pleasure to market for it, since you will need only your change purse with you; the billfold may stay at home. Starting out to purchase a cut of the round, our butcher sternly refused to sell us anything but the shin when we told him our purpose. With two pound of solid meat and a couple of bones thrown in, we had the makings of a meat dish and a soup.

2 pounds boiling beef
1-1/3 cups cornmeal
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf

Cover the beef with boiling water and gently boil it with the bay leaf and garlic until tender, adding the salt when it is about half cooked. Allow from two to three hours.

Remove the meat to a chopping bowl. To a quart of the stock add the cornmeal and boil for 15 minutes or until the meat is ready. Meanwhile chop the meat and season.

Line a buttered baking dish with the cornmeal and put in the chopped meat with enough stock to moisten. Cover with the cornmeal and bake in a moderate oven (375 degrees) for a half hour. Cooking the cornmeal in the stock gives it an unusually good flavor.

From the box of C.C. from Ceres, California.

Tamale Pie

2 Tbsp. shortening
1 large onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb. ground beef
1 can tomatoes, 2-1/2 size
1 can creamed corn, #303 can size
1 tall can pitted olives
salt, pepper, chili powder to taste
1 c. uncooked cornmeal
2 eggs, beaten

Saute onion and garlic in shortening. Add meat and brown. Add tomatoes, corn, olives (juice included). Cook a few minutes; Add seasonings.

Fold in cornmeal gradually, stirring so it will not get lumpy. Add eggs, beaten; stir while mixing. Cook about 5 minutes.

Pour into buttered casserole; sprinkle with grated cheese. Bake in 350 deg. oven 40 to 60 minutes until firm.


  1. Kathy Chambers

    My mother’s tamale pie used 1 can Campbell’s tomatoes soup,1 can creamed corn, 1 can evaporated milk and the 1 lb cooked meat was always half ground beef & half ground pork. The cheese was always grated and stirred into the mess of ingredients. She always used 1 can whole pitted olives and 1 yellow onion, minced and 1 finely chopped bell pepper. 2 tablespoons of chili powder, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 teaspoon of oregano, 3 beaten whole eggs, 1 cup of water and mixed everything together in a 5 qt. oval aluminum roaster with enough yellow cornmeal to make a thick slurry then she baked it until the center was cooked through. I loved the taste of the olives with the pie bits where the pit should be.

  2. Allan

    Can hardly wait to try this recipe.
    Muchos gracias!

  3. Cathie Hess

    I would love to know where this came from because…….this is my handwritten recipe and would love to know who found this! I’m a retired trucker and have made friends throughout the country and traded recipes it’s wild to see a recipe that you wrote and shared with another foodie… again any ideas where this was collected from who???

    • Kashmirkat

      I could swear this is the recipe, or very similar, that my husband’s G-ma gave me years ago – I wish I could remember it but all I remember is that it had black olives, corn and cornmeal that wasn’t really made into a crust…

  4. Julie

    I too have been looking for this recipe, but for only 15 years or so. I made it a couple weeks ago and it was like scratching an itch I couldn’t reach that whole 15 years. It was wonderful. So different from every other Tamale Pie recipe, with the cornmeal mixed in, not on top. DELICIOUS!

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