Written July 24, 2014-Modified January 27, 2019
Nothing brought me more joy than to hear my Mama making flour tortillas almost every morning. It was a rhythmic sound of music from the palote, it was my alarm clock, as I laid in the warmth of my bed. There was no sweeter sound, it was truly the music of my childhood. But, even more than the sound of the palote. Were the smells of those golden disks of heaven, that I would soon be enjoying with a scrambled egg.
Many Mexicans do not have much respect for the flour tortilla.
“Few foods are more contentious among Mexicans than the flour tortilla. People rhapsodize about the earthiness of a corn one hecho a mano (freshly handmade); high-end Mexican restaurants in the United States boast on social media about their use of heritage maize to create organic, non-G.M.O. versions. The corn tortilla is an easy symbol of pride, an elemental food that connects Mexicans to our indigenous past and ancestral homeland. Those made de harina (of flour), by contrast, are bastard children of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, a hybrid of the corn flatbread that has existed in Mexico for thousands of years and the wheat that the Spanish conquistadors brought over. Recent Mexican immigrants deride flour tortillas as a gringo quirk.”From Article in New Yorker.
My maternal Abuelita, Elena was from Northern Mexico. White flour tortillas reign supreme in Chihuahua.
In the United States food purists view flour tortillas as “gavacho” food! But, then again I question who the food purists are and what their credentials are?
In Praise of Flour Tortillas, an Unsung Jewel of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands
By Gustavo Arellano, January 13, 2018
If you believe this, you have not had a good flour tortilla.
I realize there are many ways to make tortillas, as there are women. And, we have not even discussed the regional differences. 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 saw 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 or blender! I read another post that used a mixer with a dough hook! That did it, I put my hands up in the air! 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? And, very few simple ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, water, and lard. 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 oil. But, to get the best tasting tortillas, go ahead an indulge, use lard. You also need a well-seasoned comal and just the perfect heat. I recall Mi Mama affectionately and proudly placed the tortilla in her best and cleanest dish towel, to keep warm.
I also read this hint, while Googling. Hints to keep them soft and pliable! Wrap the tortillas in a damp paper towels as soon as they are done
cooking. This is so the tortillas don’t dry out. I do not believe this for one minute! If a tortilla
has the proper amount of lard. They will remain
soft, regardless! I have never seen this done!
I also realize, everyone thinks their Mamas’ are the best. 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 inside) and color. Shape is for esthetic purposes, but necessary. To me it was totally insignificant, in my youth. “I don’t care if they’re square,” my Abuelito, Higinio would say, “they do not go into your tummy round!” As he supported my first attempts at tortilla-making. He was my biggest cheerleader! It’s not that I didn’t want to make them round, it was just difficult for me to maneuver the palote to take a spin with your wrist, to form a circle. A skill I never mastered.
Tortilla-making is another lost art, understandably, it was/is back- breaking work. When now, it is so easy to just pick up a dozen at the supermarket, but they’re not the same and can get expensive for very large families. I recall growing up seeing what they call ” altos de tortillas,” or high stacks as tall as a foot or more. 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 lunch and dinner.As a young girl whenever I helped my Mama make tortillas mi panza (my belly) was always white with flour. I just couldn’t stay clean and seemed to put all my body into making tortillas.
I loved when they inflated and got puffy, Mi Mama would say her heat was just perfect.
I have tasted many tortillas within the course of my life, with the texture of crispy chapatis (Indian flatbread) or very thick like naan. Don’t get me wrong I luv chapatis and naan, just different culture!
Most women accompanied the family to work in the fields, and did not wish to return from a long day of work to make tortillas for dinner, that’s why they made so many in the morning.
What I would give to have a tortilla or two made by Mi Mama. I recall we’d slather them with margarine (that’s what we could afford) and they were so delicious and nurturing.
Abrazos y Besos