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.
These are the original tamaleras: Dolores Drieslein (my maternal grandmother) and her mother Maclovia Sandoval (my great grandmother).
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 must be cleaned and soaked in hot water before using them, otherwise they will be too hard and can break.
The masa has to be just the right consistency for spreading.
My aunt Teresa prepares the fillings the night before our tamalada. This is pork with red chile.
We also make a small batch of rajas con queso (green chile with cheese) tamales for non-pork eaters.
Meat, a few olives, and raisins just like my grandmas used to make them.
Our 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.”
Operation Tamales 2015 in full swing.
Even 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!
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.
Books, pajamas, and toys donated by the women who participated in our tamalada.
Until 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.