Evolution of Tamales
Long live tamales! Tamales for survival. Tamales for celebration. Tamales for tradition and tamales at lunch time. Tamales for any night of the week.
Tamales are a Mexican tradition that originated with the indigenous groups in Mexico. They have reached into the different Latin American countries. Their perseverance and longevity have earned them a rightful place on the calendar, March 23 “Tamales may have Mesoamericanorigins. But the food belongs to all of Latin America.” Tamal traditions moved along Mexico and into other Latin American countries, sometimes wrapped in corn husks and other times in banana leaves. Masa fillings adjusted according to what the land produced. Tamales started as a practical survival, easy to carry food as people migrated. This practical use carried much value, tamales became a holy food that was appreciated through various religious celebrations. So it follows that today, thousands of years later tamal traditions fit wonderfully into our various festivities or pulled out on any regular day.
Tamales at Christmas was our family tradition. My mother gathered her supplies through the season. I always thought it was no big deal to prepare, but now I know the backstory. I’ve pulled out my pocket book to buy the ingredients and supplies and I've done the hard work required. Hats off to tamaleras everywhere!
On Christmas Eve, mom had her meat simmering and her masa perfect, she gathered her little army and positioned the assembly line. Tamales de puerco y de pollo. The chicken tamales included a thin carrot and potato stick, a swig of cilantro, one green olive and a raja of pickled jalapeño. One of us spread the masa on corn husk, another added filling and two of us embellished each tamal and tied it’s ends. Mom carefully assembled the tamales in her huge pots for a long steaming process.
Christmas Dinner was simple, tamales served up with frijoles fritos, beans refried to the perfect consistency and Mexican rice. Our big family noisily gathered around the table as mi ama served dinner with a steaming mug of champurrado
Throughout the entire Christmas season we had tamales in our house. Our neighbors would send their fresh tamales, and ama would send hers to other neighbors. The entire barrio buzzed with tamal connections. You can imagine my delight when as an adult, expanding my horizons I saw that tamales were part of Thanksgiving also. Well why not?!
People all over America work hard in the kitchen to present a perfectly roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, yams and probably other sides that complete their delicious Thanksgiving Dinner. In a whirlwind people eat, then eat some more, too full to move. Leftovers get sent home with the guests, adult children, your sister, and still there's meat left on the carcass.
Stripped down to bare bone, the meat is shredded and stored in a zip lock bag, into the freezer for another occasion with turkey tamales as the main event!