Today I begin the work of what is an annual tradition, one I love, and one that I usually think - about 3/4 of the way through - "what was I thinking?"
Because today we start the tamales!
It takes at least two days for me to make good tamales, the real deal.
That is because the first day is to cook the meat, traditionally brisket, long and slow, simmered in spices until it breaks down into melty shreds of yummy goodness. Then it is taken out and shredded and the broth saved and refrigerated to defat. Next day I make the cornmeal, just the way my mom taught me, do the final seasoning and moistening of the meat with the broth, soak the husks, and then lay out all the items and start the laborious but comforting assembly.
And then I, or we, make tamales! Sometimes the kids, usually the girls, help, sometimes we watch a movie as we do it, or put on music or just talk. It's a nice time and we usually end up with seven or eight dozen tamales. We pressure cook the whole lot in batches to set them and then sneak one or two piping hot, just to taste test, you know. I know, it's a lot but we give some away and freeze the rest and I only make them about once a year, so I might as well make a bunch!
I grew up in the southwest and tamales were a much longed for, much anticipated treat. Because the only "good" tamales were homemade, period. All others were suspect, I mean, who knew what they put in there? But I knew what was supposed to be in there. Because every year I watched my mom and my aunt make tamales. They only did it once a year, maybe twice if some really special occasion arose or some extra effective begging and coercion took place. But for New Year's Eve, we ate tamales!
My father's birthday is New Year's Eve. My sister's birthday is New Year's Day. They both love tamales and so shared this birthday feast, every year. And for me, part of the appeal was sitting near my mom and my favorite aunt, listening to them talk and watching the rhythm of their hands laying out the corn husks, smearing the masa, dabbing on the filling, then folding and rolling up the tamale into a kind of beautiful little present, folded and wrapped up into it's own perfect bundle.
For years, I didn't even like to eat them, just liked to make them. Imagine! But I was a young and stupid and picky child. Now, I know better and happily, children, all of them, are clearly much wiser than me!
So it's a family feast. It's a tradition that calls back to the southwest where both Coffeedoc and I were raised and that we love. It's a connection back to my family and my memories. And it keeps me and my family connected and having a cross country birthday party with my dad and my sister, as we all have our tamales on New Years Eve and toast the new year but also the birthdays.
Anyhow, I love tradition! Heck I went through grad school for folklore/folklife and literature, of course I do! This is one of the oldest in my life and one that is very dear to me. So, I'd better get to work! Time to start the tamales!