Hope everyone is enjoying their Christmas eve, whatever and however you celebrate. Many of us are making tamales with our families (either our birth families or our chosen families or some combination thereof).
This beautiful artwork by Carmen Lomas Garza captures the scene of an extended family gathering to make tamales. The elders and the children, men and women, participate in the process. The painting also captures the various aspects of making tamales: cleaning the husks, spreading the masa, placing the filling, folding the tamale, and finally, the big tamale pot with the towel on top!
Meanwhile, we’re watching our facebook feed with some amusement as our friends debate the “correct” way to spread the masa (spoon or knife?) or the most authentic filling (pork or beef?). We remind folks that the making of tamales goes back thousands of years and that there were literally hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to make a tamal!
Here’s a drawing from Florentine Codex, Book 2, which shows ‘The Eating of Tamales Stuffed with Amaranth Greens.” Ha! Early evidence of vegan tamales.
Sahagun describes the Mexica street markets:
He sells meat tamales; turkey meat packets; plain tamales; tamales cooked in an earth oven; those cooked in an olla…grains of maize with chile, tamales with chile…fish tamales, fish with grains of maize, frog tamales, frog with grains of maize, axolotl with grains of maize, axolotl tamales, tamales with grains of maize, mushrooms with grains of maize, tuna cactus with grains of maize, rabbit tamales, rabbit with grains of maize, pocket gopher tamales.
[He sells] salted wide tamales, tamales bound up on top, [with] grains of maize thrown in; crumbled, pounded tamales; spotted tamales, pointed tamales, white fruit tamales, red fruit tamales, turkey egg tamales, turkey eggs with grains of maize; tamales of tender maize, tamales of green maize, brick-shaped tamales, braised ones; plain tamales, honey tamales, bee tamales, tamales with grains of maize, squash tamales, crumbled tamales, maize flower tamales.
Embrace your own family tradition but don’t be afraid to branch out and experiment with new fillings, new shapes, new methods.
Tamale making is a creative act of resistance that connects us to our past and our future. Connect. Create. Resist. Enjoy.