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Big Backpack–making tamales

May 9, 2011

While living in the little Mexican pueblo of San Jeronimito, my new friend Maria and I made tamales. A few years later I spent the day in a restaurant in Zihuatanejo making more tamales. Mine still don’t taste or look like theirs.

Chapter 5

Maria, had always dreamed of opening a restaurant, and had decided it was the proper time to put her dream to the test. We talked about what she was going to serve, about her hours, and who was going to help her. She asked if I would like to help her make tamales.

As I watched Maria mix the masa and lard together for the base of her tamales, with her big spoon and hands, I thought how much easier it would be with a mixer. I also knew I was watching the authentic way it was done by women in Mexico.

The smells were intoxicating from her concoction of peppers heating on the stove. Maria had already soaked the chili and removed the seeds, so I wouldn’t have to do this part of the job. She explained it was a chore no one liked, because if you rubbed your face or eye, it burned like the devil. She gave me the job of shredding the pork and chicken and then adding it to the chili sauce. I also soaked and prepared the corn husks for the beginning of my tamale journey.

Maria patiently showed me how to spread the masa on the corn husk, with the back of a tablespoon. Then add a little of the meat and chili mixture. Next came the most difficult part, for me, of folding the husk and tying the ends into a nice looking package. These little buggers seemed to just slip through my hands and end up on my lap. I would get one end tied, and the masa would start coming out the other end. Never is anything as easy as it looks, when a pro does it.

Two days and 100 tamales later, I’m sure poor Maria was sorry she’d asked me to help her. On my side of the kitchen counter where I’d worked was a total tamale mess, and across the kitchen counter where she’d worked there was not a sign of tamale preparation. I had tamale juice in every crevice of my body, and my clothes were completely covered with sauce. There were globs of maize stuck to my chair, and I knew I’d ruined several corn husks, to the point they couldn’t be used. Maria never lost her smile, and we continually laughed and talked, her in her broken English, and me in my broken Spanish.

I had a delightful time, and by the end, my tamales looked almost as perfect as Maria’s; but the first fifty, I think the family had to eat. Opening night of the restaurant was a success, as everyone loved Maria’s cooking. However, people did complain that it was a little too expensive. My God, it was three tamales for $10 pesos or about $1USD! I thought with all the work it took, they should have been one tamale for ten dollars.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Kathy Ripley permalink
    April 12, 2011 11:57 pm

    Hey Donna, want to spend the summer here in Dillon helping me with my Spainish pipe movers?!! They think I am hilarious but do get the message across. They all say O.K. & do as they damn please but I still bribe them with ice cream bars!

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