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Making Tamales

Growing up, we ate tamales only at Christmas and New Years.  We made our own and I think that’s why we only had them during the Christmas season.  If you’ve ever made them or seen them made, you know it is labor intensive.  My dad used to make them; my mom never learned how.  I watched my dad carefully and when I was in college, I made them for the dorm.

Making them got me so many compliments that it became “my thing” to do.   I made tamales for Christmas in the dorm.  Later, when I married, I made them at Christmas for our family.  And still later, after my divorce, I became very active in the Stanford Chicano Alumni Association and I made tamales for our holiday party.

Now it’s a holiday tradition.  Even though there is no longer a group to make them for, my kids have become accustomed to not only eating them but the whole “tamale making event.”  It has become our tradition.  I make them every year.  Two years ago, my son brought his girlfriend home to help us make them.  It’s great sharing our customs with them and for me, it’s wonderful to share how I make things.

This year my daughter brought the latest boyfriend to make tamales.  That’s what we’ve been doing tonight.  I went out earlier and got all the supplies, came home and cooked the meat and prepared the dough and the chile.  Then I showed her boyfriend how to make them.  The first batch is on the stove steaming as I type this.

This year we made pork and I will be making a batch of chicken ones and sometime between now and next week I will be making vegetarian ones for my daughter before she arrives for Christmas.

I remember that when I was growing up it was a huge thing to make them.  Everyone would be involved.  My parents, my six siblings and I, and my aunts and uncles, and family friends would all show up, usually on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve.  There would be music and laughing and dancing and drinking and TV movies.  The dining room table would be dragged into the kitchen and bowls of meat and dough would be placed on the table along with platters of corn husks.  Every tablespoon in the house was brought out and we’d start to spread (embarrar) the masa on the ojas or the dough on the corn husks.  My dad would fill the steamer with tamales and put them on the burner to steam while the rest of us would keep spreading, filling, and rolling more tamales.  Ours were always pork.  (I often joke that it is a mortal sin for Mexicans to eat tamales filled with anything but pork.)  Once they were steamed, we’d take a break to eat some of the freshly steamed tamales which were always 100 times better than any you could ever buy at a restaurant!

I’m glad my kids have learned to appreciate making tamales as part of their Christmas tradition and I hope that someday they pass it on to their kids.  It’s an art and a tradition that should not die out.

Gotta go!  My tamales are ready to taste!

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