When I was growing up, one of my favorite family Holiday traditions was making Tamales. My dad would usually have vacation during the time us kids were out of school. He and my mom would make probably 100 dozen tamales. My job in the process was to clean the corn husks. This job went on for days. If you have never cleaned corn husks, the ones you buy in a bag at the store, you need to try it. They are dry, and they have all this fine hair and dirt in them. You can’t get them too wet because they can’t be soggy when you spread masa on them.
My dad was a perfectionist. He knew the exact moment to take the corn husks out of the water and star unrolling them to take the strings and dirt out of them. I would stand at the sink for hours doing this, always under the watchful eye of my dad. There was no way I could do anything wrong, he was always watching me, I don’t understand how he got so much else done!!! But he did.
He and my mom were amazing. They would have all the burners on the stove going, pork roasts would be cooking, you could smell the garlic and bay leaves they were simmering with. Once the meat was cooked, it would go on huge cutting board on the table and my dad would cut the meat up while my mom was making the Mole, that’s the red gravy they smother your food with when you go out for Mexican food. Once the Mole was made, my mom would combine the meat with it while my dad was preparing the already prepared Masa, that’s the dough that’s around the meat in the tamale. He bought the Masa prepared, so he didn’t have to do anything to it, but he would knead and season and taste that raw dough until it was perfect. Once it was perfect, that’s when the fun began.
We, as a family, sat around the kitchen table, under the watchful eye of my dad, spreading masa on corn husks. We used plastic spatulas for this process, and my daddy knew the EXACT amount of masa we needed for each corn husk. As I mentioned earlier, this Happy Event usually took place during our Christmas Vacation, you know the time when all the kids are going to parties and such, well, we didn’t have to make tamales but if we didn’t, we couldn’t go out with our friends, talk on the phone, watch t.v. or anything else for that matter. So, it really was a Family tradition.
Once the masa was spread on the corn husks, my mom would take the corn husk fill it with meat and mole, fold the husk and stand the tamale up in this HUGE pressure cooker we had. The pressure cooker was the first one that Montgomery Wards ever made, my Granny used to use it to can meat, before there were Freezers!!! It was made in the early 1900s. I’m going to try to get a picture of it, so I can show you, sometime what I am talking about.
Anyway, this pressure cooker would hold about 10 dozen tamales. Once the tamales were all in the pressure cooker and the mess was cleaned up, we were free for awhile and by that time it was already bed time so we would sleep, knowing that in the morning we were having yummy tamales for breakfast. Lunch and dinner during the tamale making process usually consisted of bologna sandwiches, Laura Scudder’s barbeque potato chips and pepsi.
In the morning, my mom and dad would carefully wrap a dozen tamales in aluminum foil, then in a plastic bag. A piece of paper was placed inside the bag, with the date the tamales were made. These then went in the deep freezer, with a couple of dozen kept out for family and friends. This process went on for days and like I said we made 100 dozen tamales, if not more, each year. My mom and dad had the reputation of making the best tamales ever.
It was a great feeling to be able to take a dozen tamales to my friends and know what a wonderful gift I was giving. Our family, mostly on my dad’s side, the Gringos, would come for the holidays and they would brag and boast about the tamales for hours. What a great feeling to know I was part of that. It was not always a fun thing to do but the reaping the rewards was something I couldn’t explain. Making Tamales is probably my most favorite holiday tradition because it included just my immediate family.