|One red chili/chicken and|
one green chili/cheese tamale.
I’ve lived for most of my life in the Southwest, so when I think of Christmas traditions, tamales come to mind. I’ve loved watching the families who get together and spend the day making tamales. There is a lot of work involved as well as camaraderie and love. The result of their efforts is a delicious food. This year I thought I would share some history behind the tamale and why they are a Christmas tradition.
|Tamales with corn husk|
First, what are tamales? Tamales are a corn masa, made of ground corn, and spread on a corn husk or a type of leaf, usually filled and then wrapped and steamed. The filling is varied from meat fillings to chili and cheese to sweet tamales. They are incredibly good and very portable.
Tamales can be traced back to early history bc. Because they are so portable, they were often sent with travelers for their journey or hunters on an expedition. They could carry the tamale with them and the wrapping would keep the food safe.
What is in the tamale filling? Today, you find them with beef, pork or chicken, usually in a chili-based sauce. Or, there are cheese and green chili tamales. Or, the sweet tamales with raisins. There are quite a variety, but what about historically?
What did the Aztecs and Mayans use to fill their tamales? Some of the fillings used were meats such as rabbit, fish, turkey, beans, fruits, and even eggs, which are all pretty normal to us. But, they also had fillings made of more unusual meats such as gopher, frog or flamingo. Frogs? Flamingos?
|Photo by Diana Ponce Navarrete|
Making tamales can be very time consuming, thus the reason families get together and make dozens of tamales in one day. The filling needs prepared. The masa must be mixed to the right consistency. The corn husks or leaves need softened.
Once everything is ready, the tamales are assembled by smoothing a layer of masa on the corn husk or leaf, adding a spoon full of filling, and then folding the tamale just so. Some are tied to keep them from opening, but sometimes the husk is large enough to fold and stay closed. The top of the tamale is left open and they are placed in a large
kettle to steam, standing them on end so the open end is upright and the filling won’t fall out. Having helpers for the process is a wonderful idea, plus the time with family cements relationships and teaches the younger children the family recipe. This is tradition handed down over the years.
Why are tamales so popular at Christmas in the Southwest? There is the belief that the tamales made at Christmas contain an olive, the representation of the Christ child with the tamale representing Mary. It is symbolic of her carrying the Christ child and Him waiting to be born. This story has been handed down for centuries.
|Tamales ready to eat.|
No matter the way they are made or the reason for making them, tamales are a wonderful tradition. They are eaten all year long, but at Christmas, the making of them becomes very special.
Have you ever made tamales? Do you enjoy eating them? They are a wonderful food that is easy to fix once they’ve been made. My family has enjoyed them for years, and I’ve made them a few times. Mine have never measured up to some of the ones we’ve been given from families who have their own recipe handed down. Still, it’s wonderful to try something new.
Nancy J Farrier is an award-winning author who lives in Southern Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website: nancyjfarrier.com.