By Veronica Gonzalez-Smith
We grew up next door to my grandmother and for several days before Christmas I’d watch her do all the necessary preparations before making tamales. One day she would make the savory pork used for the filling and the next day it was the smoky red chile sauce. As soon as I got close enough to her back door I knew the ritual had begun. The smells went on like this for days.
I always knew the big day was close because corn husks sat soaking in the sink and silk threads were all over the counters and I always liked cleaning them up. Sometimes I pretended it was floss. My job, for years, was to remove the silk threads found on the soaked husks and it made me feel important.
Grandma never used a mixer to mix the masa for the tamales; she kneaded it all by hand. Carefully she’d spread a thin layer of masa on each corn husk and filled each one with just the right amount of pork and red chile sauce. Grandma always said there was nothing worse than eating tamales that had more masa than filling.
The last time she made tamales was at the glorious age of 96. I think she knew this might be the last time she would have the strength to do it. She insisted that my mother get her some masa to make a batch of tamales, after all she had gifts to make.
My mother gently pushed grandma’s wheelchair up to the kitchen table, and for the last time, she watched her mother knead love into her last batch of tamales.
No one in our family has made them quite the same since, but we try. We’ve come to the conclusion that we have to put the miles and time in before we can come close. We have the same recipe and every year we get a little closer. My mother has come very close to how grandmas tasted. Having made tamales as an adult, I know it was a labor of love.
Our desire to keep the memory of grandma’s tamales alive, keeps us making them from year to year.
In honor of our grandmother Jesusita, may you find as much joy in the kitchen as we have.
Start creating your own magical moments by exploring with foods that bring you joy!
El Paso, Texas natives, Veronica Gonzalez-Smith and Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack are sisters and foodies writing a cookbook with their mother, Evangelina Soza titled “Muy Bueno: Three-Generations of Authentic Mexican Flavor.”
You can find recipes on their blog site.