Nothing brought me more joy than to hear the rhythmic sounds of my Mama’s palote (rolling pin) each morning. It was the same sound for at least 5 days a week, same time.
The palote started.
I could tell when she walked to the comal to turn a tortilla.
The palate stopped.
I could tell when she finished a tortilla and was going to place a new one on the comal.
The palote started.
I could actually keep count to how many tortillas she had made.
It was all in the timing. It was our alarm clock.
It was music to my ears as I laid in the warmth of my bed, thinking of my day (usually homework I hadn’t finished).
But, even more than the sounds of the palote.
Were the smells of those golden disks of heaven, that I would soon be enjoying with an egg. As we all stumbled into the kitchen more asleep than awake, we entered our morning ritual. My Mama greeted us with a “Buenos Dias,” and we responded, “good morning, Mama.” My Mama was giving out orders like a drill sergeant. “Did you all brush your teeth,” “come here Raquel let me make you a braid,” “Steve do you want a scrambled egg or fried,” “apurensen (hurry up) or you’ll be late!” As we all ran out the door.
I realize there are different ways to make flour tortillas, but the basic ingredients and recipe do not differ. I have even studied how many turns are required to make the perfect tortilla. Essentially, I can tell if a tortilla will be good based on the color. I have seen many tortillas and cooking methods, growing up. I have also researched this topic extensively on Google. As soon as I read to whisk the flour, I left that post. You do not whisk nor use a pastry cutter! I read another post that used a mixer with a dough hook! That did it, I put my hands up in the air, ya Basta!
You use your hands, your best instrument in the kitchen. This is where a mother’s love, desires, dreams, aspirations, prayers, and blessings are imparted to the dough, for her family, through her hands. How can a machine do that?
* baking powder
I realize people do not use lard in this day and age. It is with great reluctance and hesitation that I say you may substitute shortening or oil. But, to get the best tasting tortillas, go ahead an indulge, use lard. You also need a well-seasoned comal and adjust the perfect heat.
I also realize, everyone thinks their Mamas’ are the best; it has to do with what you grew up with. And they are. I mean these are fighting words, to disrespect someones Mama’s tortillas! A good tortilla has the right seasoning, perfect moist texture (not mushy) and color. Shape is insignificant to me, I don’t care if they’re square or the shape of a huarache, like mine were! My aunt Lupe and my Abuelita stood over me while I struggled to make the perfect tortilla shape. My Abuelito, Higinio was my biggest supporter, he use to tell me, “they do not go into your tummy round!” “You go ahead and make them any shape you want,” is what my Abuelito told me. So I carried on, I learned how to make flour tortillas heck it was a rite of passage. But, I never was really good at making them. I excelled in other things. I preferred to cook, sew, and play around outside. Then I wonder, did my Mama enjoy making us flour tortillas, and I think yes, she did. I watched her. It was like she was in a “zone.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a “tortilla making zone.” But, she was in it! It reminds me of myself, when I wash dishes. It is therapeutic for me. I actually enjoy it. It is my quiet time. To sort, pray and make plans.
Tortilla-making is another lost art, similar to tamale making, understandably, it is back- breaking work. When nowadays,it is so easy to just pick up a dozen at the supermarket, but they’re not the same. I recall growing up seeing what they call “altos de tortillas,” high stacks as tall as a foot. Made early in the morning usually before 5:00 a.m., in preparation to send the family off to work in the fields, and enough for dinner.
Until next time, my Famigos. I also need to say that I have tasted many tortillas with the texture of Chapatis (Indian flatbread) they lack lard or shortening. Don’t get me wrong I luv Chapitis, just a different culture!