Tamale Night – Otherwise Known As Christmas Eve

by irms

Remember those rules we talked about?  Consider that a high level overview.  If you want to be a Mexican, or if you want to not be killed by one, you should know one or two things about what it takes to make a proper tamale, and therefore, how to handle yourself when you go to grandma’s house for the holidays:

Mexicans make tamales.  It’s how we know what season it is.  Without tamales, someone might try to make hummus for Christmas consumption, and that would make us white.

One year, instead of making our own tamales, someone decided it would be easier to buy them from another family… a catastrophe of incalculable damage.  So badly were they recieved that we retell the story each year, to strangers and visitors alike; a sort of cautionary tale to ensure our children’s children won’t be tempted to make the same mistake.

Tamale making has rules.  Not just any ol’ culinary expert can prance into the kitchen and whip up 20 dozen tamales.  It takes patience.  It takes resolve.  It takes ojas.  It takes… grandma.


Tamale Night

Tamale Night

Tamale making begings early in the morning and ends early the next morning when the last corn husk has been filled, cooked, and stashed for breakfast.

Through the day, meat is cooked, sodas are consumed, masa is flying everywhere, ladies are covered in sauce, and men are snoring on the couch.  Grandma runs the show and her daughters control the grandaughters.

The major event is the masa spreading.  This is where we take the washed corn husks and apply the cornmeal mixture to the leaves.  This can only happen once the meat has fully cooked, and when the meat is fully cooked, all the ladies pass around a plate and a piece of bread for testing.  The ladies will agree that the meat is perfect.  One aunt will say a little more salt.  Grandma will say it’s too dry.  This conversation will happen every year.

Every lady in the house, including guests!, grab a spoon and help spread the masa on the ojas.  This has to be done just so or grandma will send your husks back to you and have you redo them.  Too much masa and the tamale won’t cook through, not enough and it dries out.  Redo too many leaves and you may end up relegated to dish detail for not pulling your own weight.

Grandma or one of her daughters performs the act of actually stuffing the husks with the meat.  Another daughter prepares the oyas for cooking, and the ojas for spreading.

At the end of the night (around 2 in the morning, really), everyone is exhausted, and grandma will say we aren’t doing it again next year.  This causes panic among the grandchildren.  How will we know when Christmas is?  My aunts will claim they are going to buy new pots and utilities before next year.  They will forget what they need to buy before the next morning.  This conversation must also happen every year.

On Christmas morning the whole family crams themselves into grandmas house, rearranging furniture and sending kids outside so we all fit.  Once again the ladies take to the kitchen to make eggs and mole to serve with the tamales.   Just like the rules state: men eat first, followed by young adults, then the children and the women eat dead last.

Some things you should know about eating a tamale:

  • Not everybody likes them and this doesn’t matter.  Even the married-into-the-family members choke back one or two tamales for Christmas.
  • Everyone congratulates grandma on a feast well made.  The other ladies may hear a “thank you”, but grandma is the star and Christmas would simply not happen without her permission.
  • You’re allowed to fall asleep on the couch when you are stuffed full of tamale.  It’s the equivalent of a compliment to the ladies.
  • People will show up for several days after the big event to finish off the leftover tamales.  If you cannot be one of these people, it is acceptable to take a to-go bag.  One of the ladies will find a scrap peice of foil to put them in.
  • Guests are encouraged to bring sweet things for the ladies to munch on during the tamale making process, the rest of the food is provided by the family.  It would not be wise to bring, say, a ham.  There should be no other food of note to compete directly with the tamales.  All other desserts are welcome.

I think that about clears up tamale night.  Did I miss anything?