Perhaps you remember my post from Mexico in February about our jubilant return to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. There were beautiful shots of San Miguel, and more than one of you admitted that you coveted our good fortune! Who wouldn’t be jealous? We had a delightful housekeeper who cooked like a dream, cleaned up our sumptuous house every day, and made us laugh while she did it.
We had the perfect writing studios, a gorgeous pool, and a peaceful fragrant garden. We had lots of old friends to enjoy and a charming, colorful Mexican colonial town to rediscover. The plan was to be in that perfect situation for two months, but the dream splintered like a bottle of Padrone Tequila dropped on a saltillo tile floor after just two weeks. Tim was having so much trouble with his medication dosage that a quick exit to California and the prescribing docs was prudent. The good news is that he’s doing just fine now, and the other good news is that we got to have a little fun before making our hasty retreat!
We were so lucky that the day after we arrived our “family” in Mexico was staging their semi-annual tamale-making extravaganza and we were invited to join the fun. Maribel Barrios was one of the first people we met when we arrived in San Miguel ten years ago, and our friendship has deepened with every visit. Her large family has honored us by inviting us to be part of celebrations and ordinary life, too. We miss them terribly when we are away, and although we are in touch frequently, it’s never quite the same as being there. Tim and I gleefully left our unpacking, shopping and chores behind that first day and sped away to have family fun.
The family makes tamales twice a year, those hearty masa treats stuffed with chicken, cheese, chilies, fruit or just about anything you can imagine, wrapped up in a corn husk making a perfect hand-held treat! The two or three day process begins with cooking fresh from the country corn kernels and then peeling the skin from them by rubbing the kernels together by hand. Then the corn is taken to a grinder who makes it into masa. This gorgeous goo is nothing like the dry stuff we buy at the market in the U.S. Then Lidia and her family stir up big pots of masa flavored to correspond with the filling it will contain. Sweet tamales filled with strawberries will have a sugary flavoring, while the fiery hot green chilie tamales will get a piquant twist. Once the masa and other ingredients like chicken, beef, chilies and green and red salsas are prepared, (this long and arduous task is all done before Tim and I show up!), the assembly line begins. Corn husks soak in a big tub and form the wrapper which the tamale maker opens in her palm. Then she expertly (You will notice you do not see me expertly performing this task) slaps masa, mashes it, adds the filling and then deftly folds the whole thing into a tidy package. Everyone in the room has been performing this sleight of hand her whole life except you-know-who.
The women neatly stack those packages until the table will hold no more and then they stand them on end in huge pots lined with cork husks. The process takes many days, many hands and the gossip, stories, jokes and laughter rarely stop. I should mention that Tim and I traditionally bring a big bottle of tequila to these events, so the tamale makers enjoy an occasional sip to keep their attitudes right. I’m certain that’s why the laughter quotient increases exponentially as the piles of tamales grows!
Here’s a video of Lidia and me enjoying ourselves as she tries to increase my product output. It turns out I’m better at sipping tequila than making tamales!
And here is my darling friend Maribel, Lidia’s daughter-in-law, trying to educate me. I think making tamales is a genetic talent. My tamales always look like an unmade bed with masa poking out like an untidy sheet. I think they just invite me to enjoy watching me bungle the whole thing!
And here’s a shot of what I really do well – watch! (I’m pretty good at eating tamales and drinking tequila, too.
Finally the first pot is off to the neighbor’s house, the people who have the most powerful burners on the block. No one could find the right lid for the pot, so a frying pan tied on top with rope did the job. Ingenuity is the Mexican way, and it’s also the Martin way! Living home free requires some creative solutions almost everywhere we go.
When those tamales came back from the neighbors several hours, a few tequilas and a thousand laughs later, we dove into them, slathering them with Lidia’s celestial red and green sauces, chasing them with frosty Modelo. It was good to be “home,” and even though our visit was cut short we were lucky enough to have those precious hours together celebrating friendship and food – life’s main events in my book!