LatinaLista — If it’s Christmas, it must be tamal time. In most Hispanic households, making and/or eating tamales during this time of the year is a long-held family tradition.
Though not all Latino countries know tamales by the same name, there is a shared history and appreciation of it.
The tamale is recorded as early as 5000 BC, possibly 7000 BC in Pre-Columbian history. Initially, women were taken along in battle as army cooks to make the masa for the tortillas and the meats, stews, drinks, etc. As the warring tribes of the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan cultures grew, the demand of readying the nixtamal (corn) itself became so overwhelming a process, a need arose to have a more portable sustaining foodstuff. This requirement demanded the creativity of the women…..hence the tamale was born.
The tamales could be made ahead and packed, to be warmed as needed. They were steamed, grilled on the comal (grill) over the fire, or put directly on top of the coals to warm, or they were eaten cold. We have no record of which culture actually created the tamale but believe that one started and the others soon followed.
So, in other words, tamales were the first sandwiches of the New World!
Though, given these busy, hectic times, we may not make tamales ourselves anymore, there are places where we can buy them and some which even ship them across the country. Casa Q, a site dedicated to finding those hard-to-find places where we can purchase Latino-themed or inspired items created a tamales list of everywhere in the nation where we can buy tamales.
But if you do want to try your hand at making tamales, one source, among many now online, is the cookbook Tamales 101. The author of the book, Alice Guadalupe Tapp, works with her daughter making tamales every day of the year at their California shop known as Tamara’s Tamales.
To get you started, here’s a recipe from the book Tamales 101 that is sweet, easy and will have you starting your own family tradition in no time.
2 -15 cups fresh masa
1 Can (1.10oz) pumpkin puree
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp ground mace
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups raisins dark or golden
36-48 dry corn husks
Soaked washed and drained plus more for ties
Place the prepared masa in a large bowl. Combine the masa, pumpkin, and sugar then and add vanilla, mace, cinnamon, and raisin and mix well until well- blended. To assemble the tamales place 2-3 heaping tbsp in the center of the smooth side of the corn husk. Fold sides of the husk in to the center and ties the tamales at both ends with corn husk ties.
Prick the husk several times using the tip of a sharp knife. Steam for 45-50 minutes. Makes 3-4 dozen.
Serve Warm topped with whipped cream or caramel sauce.