Tamales are a staple for most Mexican families, especially at Christmas. The perfect tamales should only be cooked no more than 1 1/2 hours, and the masa (corn dough) should easily separate from the hoja (corn husk). My mother made the best tamales in the world, and I wanted to try her recipe for our “Annual Tamale Contest.” I called my sister Norma several times to be certain of our mother’s recipe for tamales. In the past Mike was always the one getting everything prepped for the tamales, but this time things were going to change. In the last 2 years our tamales have not won. All I could think about was winning the contest with my Mom’s secret recipe.
Mike and I did a lot of running around on Saturday to get all the ingredients together. We went to a different Mexican market for the masa this time. Masa is the freshly cooked corn, ground up, and mixed with lard. We purchased 25 pounds of masa, but Mike mentioned that the masa looked too mushy. My sister Norma assured me that Mother always used pork shoulder for the meat. Mike made the sauce with California chiles, pasillas, and New Mexico chile, just like my Mom. Mike kept reminding me, “This is your show; I’m just helping.” As Mike cut the meat I browned it in a large frying pan, and then transferred it into the sauce. For two hours we allowed the flavors to unite into one, and soon our home was filled with the sweet aroma of Mexican comfort food. Before Mike went to bed he told me, “Make sure you let the meat cool down before putting into the fridge.” It was already 10:00 P.M. and my eyes were getting heavy when I went to check on the meat, It was still too hot. I wondered if this putting hot food away was an Old Wive’s Tale. I Googled it, and sure enough, every single post said that it was fine to put hot food in the refrigerator.
The following morning was production day. I recruited my neighbor Adele, one of my longtime friends to help us.
I taught my class of catechumens at St. Norbert, and from there went to the Dollar Tree to pick up a plastic table cloth. As usual, I left the store with a lot other junk, including Christmas headbands for the kids.
I Came home, soaked the corn husk and waited for the laborers to arrive. Sonja, Russ and the kids, including their dog, arrived at 2:30. My job was to mix the masa with sauce to give it some color, but I decided to go off on my own tangent and add some broth from the pork shoulder. No one knew I was doing this, until nosy Russ asked, “What are you putting into the masa?” “None of your business” I answered. Russ would not leave it alone, “It looks like fat!” “It’s my Mom’s recipe!” I sharply replied. It was not my Mom’s recipe, but my creative way of making things taste better.
I cooked the first dozen tamales for us to enjoy while we worked. The tamales had been cooking for over 2 hours when I got one out and served Adele. The weirdest thing happened. When I opened the tamales it was like mush, Mikos opened the second one and said, “Mom, these are raw!” “No they’re not, they’ve been cooking for almost two hours, ” I replied. Poor Adele, she graciously ate the mushy tamales and said that they was great. Mike was all over this and said , “I knew we should have never changed where we bought the masa, it was way too moist!” So we continued to cook the tamales for another half hour. This time Sonja got into the act, saying, “Wow, what happened Mom? They’re sticking to the hoja (corn husk)!” I had no reply, but I started to panic, because at this point we were almost done with the production. Mike said, “Cook them longer!” Someone cranked up the heat on the pot and while everyone was pointing fingers at me, the tamales started burning. The smell hit all of us at the same time because we were all in the kitchen. “Oh my God, now you’re burning them!” Sonja yelled.
These are the loving words that came out of my family’s mouths:
Mikos: “Mom, did you make tamale soup?”
Sonja: “They taste so good, but they look so awful!”
Mike: “The masa was too moist because we did not buy it at the right place.”
Russ remained silent but we both knew what I did. So to clear my conscience, I sat down and said “Well, maybe because I added some broth from the pork shoulder to the masa, this could have changed things.” At this point everybody started going crazy. Even Jenny, who did not help with the production, said, ” So you compromised the masa?” and her loving husband, my only son, Mikos, added, “You’re never going to win with these tamales Mom.” Russ finally opened his mouth and ratted me out saying, “It was not broth, it was fat.”
After everyone left, I called my sister Norma and shared with her my observation that the recipe that she gave me was a disaster. At first she was very empathetic, then came all the questions: “Did you put the meat away while it was hot? What did you do? You guys worked so hard.” Then I told her about adding the broth. “You did what? You added more lard? That is not our mother’s recipe!” She ended the conversation with, ” It’s a shame, It’s a crying shame!” I told her to shut up (in a nice way).
So on December 15, 2018 I will enter both of my pork and chicken tamales, and pray that God will fix this debacle in time for me to be crowned the “New Tamale Queen.”
Please remember that we are entering into the New Liturgical Year, and Sunday was the first day of Advent. The first Sunday of Advent symbolizes Hope with the “Prophet’s Candle,” reminding us that our Lord Jesus is coming. We prepare our hearts for his birth.
God Bless You!