Rhett Rushing, folklorist at San Antonio's Institute of Texan Cultures, said tamales have been traditional Christmas Eve fare for centuries because they're portable, easy to store and inexpensive to make for large gatherings.
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Gina Guereca remixes a bowl of masa , which she purchased from a molina , or mill. Katie Hayes for NPR hide caption. Through the years, the preparation of the labor-intensive food became a social event, called a tamalada , as womenfolk from ranches across Mexico and what's now the American Southwest gathered to prepare the Christmas Eve feast.
It was the love and the tears. For San Antonian Gina Guereca, it's also about memories — preserving old ones and creating new ones.
Tamales For Christmas Are A True Texas Tradition
I was maybe in the fourth grade, and I can remember her in the corner of our little kitchen spreading hojas [corn husks] while my dad watched," Guereca, 43, recalled. As a young girl, Guereca helped out with small tasks — cleaning the husks and preparing the chiles — before taking her place at the stove. Virginia De La Garza, Guereca's mother, concentrated on teaching technique, rather than a recipe. In the early s, Guereca got her chance to be chief tamalera , or tamale maker, when she and her Marine husband, Simon, took the Texas tradition to Hawaii.
Making Tamales, A Christmas Tradition Year-Round
At first, Guereca thought she could fall back on the experience of some older Hispanic wives at the Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps base. But she quickly discovered that tamale-making was rapidly becoming a lost art. She was the only one of her group with any experience at all.
Guereca now gathers her family and friends for an old-fashioned tamalada each year, in an effort to continue the tradition handed down by her mother.
This year, about a dozen friends and neighbors gathered at the Guereca home on the Saturday before Christmas for a daylong tamal-making party with music, food and plenty of gossip. Once everything is ready, spread a small amount of dough onto a corn husk, add a spoonful of filling on top, roll it up and fold the end of the husk over to seal the bottom. Once finished, steam all the tamales in a steamer with the open side up until thoroughly cooked.
It could take an hour or more, so be patient. Families get together for a tamale-making party called a tamalada. Without help, tamale making can be a long, tedious process.
But, when family gets together, it becomes a fun tradition. We are your resource for Hill Country travel, things to do, places to eat, places to stay, tourism, events, lodging, and we feature Texas Hill Country info of all manners. We are born and bred in The Hill Country, and we welcome you to our family. Although she served as an assistant while watching her mother and grandmother make tamales for many years, Molina said she never really made them by herself until her mother died in the s.
Now she carries on the family tamale-making tradition and hopes her children and grandchildren will learn from her so they can carry their culinary heritage through the 21st century.
Tamales for Christmas
The custom of making tamales originated with the native American people who lived in Texas and Mexico and interacted with Spanish explorers, sharing their cuisines, according to the Handbook of Texas Online, a joint project of the General Libraries at the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas State Historical Association. Like most Tex-Mex corn-based dishes, the name tamale was derived from the Nahuatl language of the Aztec people who lived in Texas during the time of the Spanish exploration. Even a century ago, tamale-making was such a time-intensive process that tamales were considered a special occasion dish, made only for celebrations and solemn offerings.
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Well worth the time and effort, every tamale is a delicious gift waiting to be unwrapped, she said in a news release. Place the corn flour in a large bowl and add 4 cups warm broth. Beat with a wooden spoon or mix with your hands until dough is smooth. Use a little more broth if necessary, but the mixture should not be loose.
Beat the lard or shortening in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed about 3 minutes, until fluffy. Begin adding the masa dough mixture, a handful at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Alternatively, beat in the tamale mixture using your bare hand as a whipping and folding tool. If the mixture becomes too stiff to beat, add up to 1 cup of tepid chicken or pork broth, a little at a time.
When done, the mixture should be very light and delicate, the texture of buttercream frosting.