Nostalgia, Thanksgiving and Pork Tamales
Give me some pork tamales, and I will be your amiga for life.
Para mi, the holidays are a very nostalgic time of year.
Growing up, these months were filled with boisterous – some might even say, frenetic – family gatherings. Los hombres sat around the TV in the living room yackitty-yacking (si, I mean “gossiping”), watching the Cowboy game and shouting at the referees. In la cocina, over the sound of pots clanging together, the women laughed and whipped up some of the most delicioso meals of the year. For Thanksgiving we followed the traditional American custom of turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole and pecan pie. And Christmas day would find us sitting around the table gorging on brisket, crescent rolls and macaroni salad.
But the weeks in between these holidays would be dedicated to some serious tamal making.
Enormous pots and pans would suddenly appear, taking up all available counter space in my ‘buelita’s kitchen. Precarious piles of cornhusks would be stacked on a card table, and for weeks afterwards, I would find the little golden threads in the strangest places. The most heavenly smells would permeate my very being until I felt like I was floating in a giant cloud of spices.
As most Latino families know, you don’t just make a dozen or so tamales at a time. It’s more like 10, 11, even 12 dozen or more. You have to make enough not only to store in the freezer, but to share with all your friends y familia. And you don’t make just one kind. For us there were bean and jalapeño, pork, beef, chicken, and…sweet? (Se me olvida, I didn’t like that one as much.)
I can remember how my ‘buelita had a favorite wooden stool she would sit on, and how her hands would fly scooping up masa, spreading it on the husks – one stroke, two strokes y vamos! – then tossing them into a pile nearby. She knew EXACTLY how much masa to scoop up on her little spreading knife. Her deft little fingers quickly pinched off the perfect amount of shredded pork and cupped it in her hand giving it a little squeeze into the right shape before tucking it gently but meticulously in the husk. A quick roll, fold and pinch, y ya! Into the giant pot it goes. Before you knew it, the kitchen would be all steamy from the cooking tamales and the house would be warm with impatient anticipation.
That first bite of the season is one I miss so very terribly.
My ‘buelita has passed on and I have grown up only to live miles away from my family. Even now as I write, I feel the ache, not so much for the actual tamales, but for the feeling of love, joy, security, and even excitement that sometimes we can only experience as children. That moment in time when we are simply someone’s precious treasure, with no weight of responsibilities – no bills to pay, no mouths to feed, no dinners to attend, no projects to finish, no deadlines to meet. We can indulge in our innocent taking, without the pressure to give in return.
But even as I long for those golden moments of my childhood, I am reminded that now is an opportunity to create those same moments for my children. And regardless of our culture and how it changes shape with the absorption of new people or cultures into our lives, we can all take this time to create these perfect memories for our own children and families.
Monica Olivera Hazelton writes the blogs Mi Cielito Lindo and The Latin Baby Book Club. She is also owner of Latin Baby, an online boutique catering to Latino families and editor of the Latino Family’s Holiday Gift Guide.