I am taking a bit of time to recover and spend time with the best thing we’ve cooked up yet. Please enjoy posts prepared ahead of time over the next few weeks. I will be back in the kitchen again soon!

This recipe goes back…way back… to the days of Leave It to Beaver and drive in movies. I first encountered tamale pie when flipping through a well worn red-checked Better Homes and Gardens cookbook pulled from my parents’ bookshelf. Only twelve or thirteen at the time, the thought of making a savory pie intrigued me. Pies were a rarity around our house in any form and I decided to see if I could make one for dinner. I recall a finished dish that blended together brown hamburger, gooey cheese, and warm black olives beneath a crumbly cornmeal crust- classic kid comfort food.

Fast forward more than a decade later, and I again found myself holding the red checked cookbook. This time I knew that the cookbook belonged to my father’s mother, a grandmother I never knew, giving it added meaning. As I flipped through the well loved pages, I stumbled upon the tamale pie recipe. I wondered if it was still as good as I remembered. Later that day, when talking to my dad, I let slip that I was going to make tamale pie for dinner. He grew excited and immediately asked if they could come over for dinner, adding that tamale pie was his favorite ‘birthday dinner’ when he was a kid. Apparently the birthday dinner tradition goes back several generations in my family!

Using a big cast iron skillet, I assembled the tamale pie. Ground beef is browned with mushrooms, onions, and green chilies. Tomato sauce, garlic and chili powder form a warm sauce. Black olives and cheddar cheese bring a salty punch. Baked underneath a cornmeal crust and served with a dollop of sour cream; the result is quintessential comfort food. Simple, old fashioned, and enjoyed by all generations. Tamale pie is here to stay.

Tamale Pie (Printable Recipe)
Adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 1968
Serves 6

1 cup finely chopped mushrooms (about 3 oz)
1 cup diced onion
1 lb ground beef
1 4.5oz can diced green chilies
1 15oz can tomato sauce
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 can large black olives (6 oz. dry weight), drained and left whole
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon chili powder
Dash of pepper
6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal (preferably stone ground)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups cold water
1 Tablespoon butter


Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place a 12″ cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the ground beef and cook, breaking it into small chunks with a spatula. When the beef begins to brown add in the mushrooms, onion, and chilies. Cook until the veggies are tender. Stir in tomato sauce, corn, olives, garlic, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, chili powder, and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes or until the sauce has thickened. Add in the cheese and stir until melted. Turn off the heat and set the skillet aside.

Place a small pot over over medium heat. Add in cold water, salt, and cornmeal. Whisk the ingredients together until the cornmeal absorbs all of the water and has thickened. Stir in the butter.

Spoon the cornmeal mixture over the top of the skillet, spreading it into an even layer. Place the skillet into the oven and bake for 40 minutes. Serve warm with sour cream on the side.

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