As Christmas is upon us, I submit a collection of stories previously written about tamales.
December 12, 2012
Can’t think of Tamales, without thinking of Mi Mama. Curious to know if any other families had as many “rules” as Mi Family. Mi Familia would make 60 to 100 lbs. of masa. I now stress out with making 5 lbs. lol. The lore behind the tamale is fascinating. Mi Abuelita believed that if you went outside while the tamales cooked, “te salen pintos!” Which means they come out pintos. I would ask her abuela “what does that mean? ” To this day I’m still not positively sure, but it had to do with opening the door and changing the temperature in the kitchen. Causing the tamales to cook in certain areas and not cook in some spots! Therefore pintos! Then it was an art watching them organize them in the pot, in a pyramid shape. They had to be just right. Just recently I was telling Augie, heck one year I made tamale soup because I didn’t set them up just right. And a couple fell over while cooking. Making tamale soup!
My sister, Dudies had previously mentioned she has also had tamale soup! Mi Mama was fussy about keeping the hojas clean on the outside, also. And to do a good job spreading the masa uniformly and neatly! In retrospect, I think, too many rules, they’re just tamales and should be Fun! But, most people would agree, no one made Tamales like Helen! The Masa was just right, they never bought prepared masa, because my Mama would say, you never know what they mix in there? Or if the lard is old or rancid!Our masa was not ready till they set a glass of water on the table, and dropped a pea size glob of masa, if the masa rose to the top, it was ready and done! And not until then. Creating the fluffiest & lightest masa. Later I’ll elaborate on her fillings.
I also recall since my family made such large quantities it was no problem gifting dozens and dozens to friends your tamales. Visitors would stop by, and we would always invite neighbors to eat tamales with us. But, Mi Mama did not gift her tamales. It wasn’t that she was stingy or selfish. She rationalized it this way. I will bake you cookies or a cake even buy you a gift.But, I don’t want to give my tamales away, since I worked so hard to make them, they were preserved for us, her children. Made sense to us.
December 16, 2015
On the art of spreading masa that’s a whole other topic. I have seen very young children, which is always a photo-op moment to memorialize. To expert women who use no other tool than their hand to spread masa. I recall the first time I saw this method I was astonished and tried to copy, but never quite could get the hang of it. I have seen people hold the oja in one hand and spread with the other. I have seen people place the ojo on the table (as I prefer). I have seen very fast persons and some very slow, very neat and very messy. All kinds. My Mama was a perfectionist and wanted the masa spread just perfectly, if not she would ask, “who spread this one.” And return it to be cleaned up or add or take away masa. Of course no one ever copped to it. But she would also look at a neatly spread oja. With the right amount of masa and say, “this one is perfect, who spread this one. ” And we would all respond, “I did, I did Mama.” We all had a good laugh.Typically, “tamaleros” use a butter knife or the back of a spoon. And as of most recent a u-tube video showing a women use a dry wall tool. The word tamaleros is an intriguing word. It is a group of people making tamales. But, it is also used to refer to a a gossipy person. Tamalera (female) or tamalero (male). Not too difficult to figure out the origin of this term. LOL.
November 15, 2016
Every year about this time my mind is absorbed with tamales and tamale-making memories; the laughter, the smells and the taste of love. I even remember the apron my Abuelita wore. As a child I recall mi Abuelita making tinas full of masa (huge galvanized tubs). Not the 5 or 10 lbs. I typically make, but 60-100 lbs. and she didn’t go to the market to buy her ready-made masa. She ground her nixtamal (corn masa) in a food grinder. This was just a step up from the metate. It was hard, and everyone helped, and I mean everyone. I recall turning the handle to grind the nixtamal. The tamales I have eaten here in Texas, are the size of my thumb. I also have only seen shredded meat or dry mystery where ours had big chunks of meat. I guess if you are selling them that’s a good size and shredded meat stretches to make more economical sense. But, our family made large flavorful tamales overflowing with delicious meat and love covered in red chile. Since we were not selling them.I can’t wait.
December 15, 2016
My Mom took so much pride in making her tamales. And shared that love and pride with all her children and family.
December 26, 2016
I love pork, unfortunately Mi Corazón and I have tried to eliminate it from our diet. I am making pork tamales, the most common. But, I am also making our favorite. Which is a smaller appetizer tamale. A raja de poblano con queso (a strip of poblano with cheese) I will also incorporate fresh corn into the masa or either in chile and cheese filling. Can’t wait. Mi Abuelito, Higinio was a vegetarian before vegetarians were fashionable in the 50’s. My family made him a masa ball without anything, but masa, we called them “bollas.”Abrazos
December 11, 2017
That time of year again…….Tamalemaking time.
Do you know what constitutes a good tamale? What are the flavors, texture, color, masa to meat ratio, what are the best chiles to use, and aromas you seek? As a child, I recall having the misfortune of eating a Van de Camps canned tamale at a neighbor’s home. Although appreciative, it was not what I was accustomed to at home. Yes it’s true! Van de Camps made a canned tamale.There were perhaps 6 in can, no bigger than a hotdog. They all stood up in can with a thin white paper wrapping separating each one. The outside was a corn mush mixture, similar to polenta. It was filled with dark mystery meat of mush! And some type of red/brown sauce. I encountered a very similar tamale last year in a restaurant in a state that will remain unnamed, while spending time with Augie. People around me raved about them and were buying them by the dozens!To be a good tamale, the masa should be light and fluffy, the ratio of meat to masa should be in proportion to size of oja, you must have the correct amount of salt, baking powder, lard and broth, and meat must be flavorful. You may use chilies of your liking, but not the powered or can stuff. Real chile pods, you roast, soften in water then puree. My family likes some heat so we add a few chile de árbol. Many people shred their meat, we fry our pork. This entails a lot more work; first dicing into cubes and it doesn’t allow for any broth either. But, we would typically boil a few pork butts for the broth. You get shredded pork when you boil your meat! I like mine in small chunks. Many people add red sauce to the masa, but that is merely an esthetic choice. I don’t, I like to see the purity of the natural masa color in contrast to the red meat. A good tamale will slide easily off the oja. That signifies you have the right amount of lard. You want the right amount of rendered lard, but you do not want a greasy tamale. That’s why I say it is truly an art to master making goodtamales. No one makes good tamales the first or second time. It’s an acquired art, IMO. It’s similar to making homemade pasta for the first time, except more labor intense!My Mama was an expert tamale maker. An oja has a right & wrong side, you spread the masa on the smooth side of the oja, not with the ridges. The stacking of your tamales in the pot is very important also. The amount of water you add to pot is important too. I use to tell my Mama,” heck with all this work, I’ll just go buy some.” She would laugh, and say, “Mija, they won’t taste the same they won’t have my Love.” And she was right. P.S.You don’t have to use lard, but…..they do not taste the same.
There are countless types of tamales from different regions in Mexico (I concentrate exclusively on the tamale of Mexico because that is what I know.
I recall one year we made our traditional tamales and in addition a different tamale, What my family called a Oxacoan style tamale with a raja (thin strip of potato, chile poblano, our traditional meat filling and a raisen or two). We also wrapped them differently since they were much larger. We tied them at both ends. They were delicious. And, we added these to our annual repertoire on occasion.
December 21, 2017
Birth of Jesus and Tamales
As we approach the birth of our Savior, I ponder……the annual Christmas traditions in my own family. The egg nog, honey-nut cakes, See’s chocolates, Los Tamales and even the proverbial anti-fruit cake. I recall Mi Mama always having a Nativity scene, and even though I didn’t decorate much this year I always have a Nativity scene in my home and even in our 5th wheeler. And, all our traditions interwoven with family stories.All of these traditions are beautiful, welcomed and so ingrained in all of us, to the point that it just isn’t Christmas without anyone of these traditions. Christmas just meant tamales. The sharing of gifts, the traditional Bobby Helm’s “Jingle Bell Rock” playing as we rocked and rolled and sang around the tamale table surrounded by the laughter of our loved ones. And, the occasional antic of smearing tamale masa on one another. Oh and the countless rules of tamale making, that the younger generations chuckled at, but nonetheless we all adhere to now. I recall my family’s rule that the masa was not ready after beating fat and stock into the masa, until a little dab of it floats in a glass of cold water.I realize it is not the gifts nor the food that makes us family. I Thank our antepasados for instilling in us a unifying family narrative intertwined with rich family traditions. We must continue to pass on to our children. It is imperative!I understand the birth of Jesus has nothing to do with tamales. But, it was our traditional celebratory meal. Today, I reflect on what does the birth of Jesus mean to me, as I enjoy a couple of tamales, ( I purchased). I am filled with Hope. From prophecy, through the joy of His birth, the salvation offered to us, the defeat of Satan, the assurance of eternal life, and the promise of His return.Merry Christmas Feliz Navidad to All.
November 29, 2018
Mi familia always put an olive in their tamales. The other day while doing some research on tamales, I found out why. “Tamales can also be seen as a symbol of the Virgin Mary, carrying in her the baby Jesus or a mother carrying a future life, especially if the tamale contains an olive.”Well I’ll Be!
Thank you Father