{TRES DEL MES} Tamales, Traditions, and Toy Drives

Tamalada 2015 Lola's Cocina

Each year, the women in my family get together one day in December to make hundreds of tamales. It’s a time to catch up with cousins and tías and reminisce about the days when my great grandma Macky and grandma Lola ran the kitchen.

Grandma Lola and Grandma MackyThese are the original tamaleras: Dolores Drieslein (my maternal grandmother) and her mother Maclovia Sandoval (my great grandmother).

Two raisins!

Now my Aunt Teresa runs the show.

We also joke about who’s a spreader, filler, bagger, and runner. You see, in my family, there’s somewhat of a hierarchy in our tamal-making assembly line. Anyone new to our group starts off as a spreader. If you’ve proven that you can properly spread masa (corn dough) onto hojas (corn husks) you’ll eventually be promoted to a filler. This is no easy feat. My mom has been making tamales all of her life and still spreads. However, somehow I finally proved I have what it takes to be a filler. This year, my aunt Teresa taught me the art of adding the meat, olives, and three raisins to the masa – each tamal requires the right amount of filling in the center, and then a tight wrap of the hoja.

Then, the bagger fills a resealable bag with 15 of these savory treats. Why is the magic number 15? The response is the same to all of our tamal-related questions, “because that’s what grandma used to do.” Then the tamales are whisked away by the runner and placed into the freezer until we cook them on Christmas Day.

Hojas for tamalesHojas must be cleaned and soaked in hot water before using them, otherwise they will be too hard and can break.

Spreading masa for tamalesThe masa has to be just the right consistency for spreading.

Meat for tamalesMy aunt Teresa prepares the fillings the night before our tamalada. This is pork with red chile.

Rajas for cheese and chile tamales | Lola's CocinaWe also make a small batch of rajas con queso (green chile with cheese) tamales for non-pork eaters.

Tamales | Lola's CocinaMeat, a few olives, and raisins just like my grandmas used to make them.

Tamales ready for the holidaysOur tamales get a little messy, but what they lack in looks, they make up in flavor.

There’s something to be said about maintaining certain traditions. For us, it’s a way of keeping our grandmothers alive – through their recipes and quirky little customs. Even though most of our family would be happy to have tamales without raisins, this recipe will likely be carried on through the generations. Why? “Because it’s what grandma used to do.”

Too many tamalesOperation Tamales 2015 in full swing.

Making memories and mixing masaEven Amado joined in on the fun.

As my cousins and I grow older we’ve started to incorporate some new traditions into our tamaladas. This year I introduced a “potluck” Bloody Mary bar to the mix. I provided the vodka and asked guests to bring a fun ingredient. People brought everything from Bloody Mary mixes and celery to fried bacon, fancy salts, olives, pepperoncini peppers, and cheeses. Needless to say, it was a hit!

Bloody Mary bar Lola's Cocina

Bloody Mary Bar

My mother also had the wonderful idea to organize a toy drive as part of our tamalada. My family and I are involved with the Junior Foundation Charities, an organization that strives to facilitate the lives of families dealing with a child who has cancer. This year, we asked that all of our tamaleras bring something to contribute. Together, we made over 200 tamales and filled an entire truck with toys, books and pajamas for the children from Junior Foundation Charities! While some traditions are meant to stand the test of time, there will always be room to introduce new ones.

Donations for the Junior Foundation CharitiesBooks, pajamas, and toys donated by the women who participated in our tamalada.

Las Tamaleras 2015Until next year, happy holidays from Lola’s Cocina and our 2015 tamaleras!

Lola Wiarco Dweck

Lola is a Mexican-American recipe developer, writer, and cooking instructor who loves sharing her culture with the world. Growing up in California and spending summers in Mexico, Lola celebrates her family’s Mexican recipes and vibrant culture through Lola’s Cocina.

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  1. Your Tamalada looks so fun!!! My mother-in-law-to-be passed away in February so this is going to be a very hard holiday time for my fiance and his familia. Just last year, she had me in the kitchen helping her make the first tamales I’d ever had the pleasure of being part of. She told me everything she did but of course you need many years of practice in order to be able to take it on myself. But I plan to as I am African American and my fiance is Hondureno and I want to learn how to make ALL his favorite dishes EASILY. I’m on that journey now and tamales are next on my list. Muchisimas gracias!

  2. Hello, Teresa. Thank you so much for your message. It’s beautiful how you’ve embraced your husband’s culture and I’m sure that one day you’ll be leading your own tamalada. The trick is to have at least one person attend who knows what they’re doing. My sister-in-law is Japanese American and learned to make beautiful (and tasty!) tamales and now teaches her friends how to make them. Happy holidays and if you ever have any cooking-related questions, feel free to email me at [email protected].

    1. Thank you, Kate! I was thinking about you and your green tamales post and how you daydream about family members sharing deep dark secrets as you made tamales. I felt like you were describing my family’s tamalada! I hope that one day we’re able to make tamales together. I just realized that we are driving distance (sort of) from each other so it’s actually a possibility.

  3. I just got back from traveling to Istanbul and the Holy Land so I didn’t get a chance to see this until today and I loved it. My mom and grandmother (both pictured above) passed away several years ago but I swear when we get together (sisters, daughters, granddaughters, niece-in-laws cousins, friends;you know us we roll big or we go home) for this fun-filled day my mom and grandma are right there with us guiding us through this amazing tamale journey from up above. Of this, I am sure.

  4. Lola, this post was so helpful!!! It came at just the right time. I shared your pictures with my 4th grade classes in December and we talked about the tradition of making tamales. A lot of kids in this area don’t even know what tamales are! We read Too Many Tamales and the book came to life when they looked at your pictures. Thank you for sharing!

      1. It sounds like Amado has a good library going! One of my favorites is Frida by Jonah Winter. I also love Nochecita by Yuyi Morales and Elena’s Serenade by Campbell Geeslin.

      2. We love the Frida book too! I’m going to have to get him Nochecita and Elena’s Serenade. You’ll have to get the Rosita y Conchita book on Day of the Dead. It’s so cute and sad. I cried as I read it to Amado!