In April 1976, just seven months before he would be defeated by Jimmy Carter, President Gerald Ford made a trip down to San Antonio, Texas. Like any visitor to old San Antone, Ford took in the defiant glory of The Alamo and was later fêted by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
At the DRT reception, in a gaffe that would later be known as "The Great Tamales Incident," Ford infamously picked up “a plate of tamales, took one and began to eat it, shuck and all" to the horror of his hosts.
"I think he just picked up the plate because if someone had given him the plate, the tamales would not have had the shucks," said Lila Cockrell, San Antonio's mayor at the time. "The president didn't know any better. It was obvious he didn't get a briefing on the eating of tamales."
The incident made national news and contributed to the image of Ford as a chronic bumbler, an image made legend by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live just days later. "The Great Tamales Incident" has since been dispatched by the political obsessives as cautionary tales against everything from ignoring Latino voters to trying too hard to seem like an everyman. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, following his "Oops" gaffe in 2012 in the Republican presidential debate, deployed the tamale story to remind fundraisers of the fallibility of politicians.
While the tamale is by no means a monolith, it is best known for being made of a corn dough called masa and boiled or steamed in corn husks or leaves.