Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Tamales

Christmas for our family has always been about Christmas Eve, Tamales and Family. On Christmas Eve, we have a tradition of everyone getting together at my mom's house around 10am and helping to make tamales. From the youngest to the oldest, we all take part and have assigned jobs. This year the youngest was Melissa, who's two years old and her job was to entertain us, and she did an awesome job. The next youngest that really did help was Fred Jr and this year he was a trainee under Bebe's watchful eye in learning how to wash "hojas" (corn husks that are used to wrap the tamale in).
Then there's the "big guns", the seasoned veterans who "amasar" (knead the corn meal, chili powder, baking powder, salt, lard and meat drippings). For quite a few years now that job was left to my brothers. Here's a picture of them last year...But unfortunately Jaime had to work this year, so I had to step into his shoes and help my brother Fred "amasar". (And let me tell you, it wasn't as fun as it looks. My arthritis, was really acting up that day, but two Advil's and a beer really helped me get through it.)

Here's Fred's lovely hands hard at work.

Here's my sad pathetic hurting little hands trying really hard not to work!And so here we are ready to go...We have the Hoja's cleaned and ready to be used to wrap the tamales... We have both pots of masa, Fred's is on the right and looks really nice and smooth. Mine is on the left and I didn't have the strength left to smooth and pat the top, but it worked just the same!Here's the meat that my mom cooked up that morning. She uses beef and pork and then we shred it all up and she uses I believe dried California Chile's, but it could be New Mexico one's, I'm not really sure, to make the chili that is mixed with the meat and then she adds garlic and onion powder and salt and who knows what else. All I know is it's yummy, I can eat this just by itself in a flour tortilla.Last, but not least...the black olives. We are an olive family! We're only supposed to put one in each tamale, but during the year as we eat the ones that are frozen and heated up later you may find one, two, three, even four olives!

So I said that everyone helps, from the youngest to the oldest. Here's a picture of the oldest, my dad Federico. He's an old pro at tamale making and he loves to get in on this part. He's not to big on helping with all the preparations ahead of time, but when it's time to actually make the tamales, he's ready!Here's another pro, my sister-in-law Norma. She can whip those tamales out like there's no tomorrow. She likes to spread the masa on the corn husks and she then hands them to her husband (my brother Fred) and he puts the meat and olives in and wraps them. Norma makes hundreds of dozens of tamales during the season leading up to Christmas and she sells them. Want to place an order for Christmas 2009, just hit me up! I'm the hook-up.Here's the gang. My sister Lisa just arrived, she had to work half day and shows up right after work to get in on the fun. And my mom...she's the floor lady, the crew chief, the big kahuna, the boss! She's making sure Lisa doesn't dilly-dally too long, we have a schedule to keep!And Lisa wastes no time shedding her sweater and putting up her hair and she's hard at it!As the tamales are wrapped and completed, they are place in these plastic bins that my mom has out back in the "cuartito". Every Christmas she takes them out, washes them out and gets them ready for the big day. We try to make the tamales all a uniform size, so they'll cook evenly. As the crew continues spreading and wrapping, Fred and my mom start the cooking process by placing them in a certain way into the "olla" (pot). Don't ask me how they do it, I have no clue but there is quite of bit of expertise involved in this process. And I want to give a shout out to my brother Fred who has really stepped up in helping my mom in the kitchen this year. At Thanksgiving he has always carved the turkey, but this year he even made the gravy and it was super delish! He also made the gravy for my mom's birthday, but that's coming up in a different post. But again Fred...thank you!And VoilĂ ! The finished product. These are a lot of trouble to make, especially since we usually make several dozens, but sooooooo worth it! Here's a naked one...unwrapped, mmmmmmm. See the black? That's the olives and the juice from the meat soaks into the masa and it's just heaven in a corn husk! Merry Christmas to us!Once they are all done and we've eaten our fill and taken some over to share with neighbors and friends, my mom freezes them and you can come over on almost any random Sunday morning and there will be tamales in the oven. As the years go by and all the kids get older, they will always have this memory of what Christmas Eve is in our family. Sure we have ocassional fights and bickering while we make the tamales, but all in all it's a good time and we love being together and we look forward to it every year.

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