Tamales are not just masa and meats wrapped in corn husks, a whole experience is wrapped into tamales, they are full of flavor, family, friends, memories, traditions, and history!
The tamale is recorded as early as 5000 BC, possibly 7000 BC in Pre-Columbian history. The women would make tamales for the hunters or when in battle would travel with them, the tamal is a filling meal and holds well for traveling.
Over the centuries tamales remain as one of the most traditional foods in Mexico, and also in Central & Southern America. There are so many variety that are often distinguished by the region of Mexico, the technique for the masa (corn dough) making is fairly consistent, however the fillings have a huge variety. One thing for sure, they are labor intense and time consuming to make, thus now they are so often only made during the holidays or special celebrations.
What I enjoy most of tamales, besides eating them, is the event itself of making the tamales, the tamalada, which is the assemblying of the tamales (soaking the corn husks, spreading the masa, filling them, wrapping them, and cooking). I guess it’s similar to getting together and making Christmas cookies. It’s really quite an event to make the tamales, most often entailing 2-3days of preparation for the shopping of ingredients, preparation of the mole, preparation of the masa, then the assembling, and finally the cooking. If you are making tamales from scratch, and most likely making several dozens, it requires, and is much more fun when family and/or friends participate! The holidays are a great time for a tamalada, growing up my mom and the tias (aunties) and cousins made everything from scratch. And if you are planning on making tamales from scratch and it’s your first time, I highly recommend to have at least one experienced person assisting you so you to get perfect tamales, everything from the masa to the sauce to the cooking process has it’s tricks- trust me! I’m lucky I have El Burrito Mercado to get the prepared masa and tamales fillings so all I have to do is assemble the tamales and cook em up!
Four years ago we held our first tamalada class and people look forward to it now, this weekend we had our 2016 tamalada in our newly expanded La Placita Room and it was a success! Everyone had a great time, my mother, our matriarch, shares some really fun stories and a plethora of information all about tamales while the class sipped on cocktails and ate dinner. Then, the last half of class everyone assembles their tamales, learns about tamales cooking techniques and then enjoy dessert & ponche navideno, each person walks away with a swag bag full of goodies.
Here are some pictures from our 2016 tamalada:
We are offering another tamalada in January, this event is open for kids too, 12yr and older, it’s a wonderful cultural experience, eat delicious authentic dinner, learn the basics about tamale making and then assemble your own to take home and freeze to later cook for your Superbowl party or for any event! Registration is now open and limited capacity, register soon, makes a great holiday gift!
So you see, tamales are not only masa and meats wrapped in the corn husk, also wrapped into each tamal is history, tradition, flavor, memories, and experiences.
Cheers, to your Tamalada!
What is Day of the Dead a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular the Central and South regions, and acknowledged around the world. The holiday focuses on celebrating the life of those that have passed, to pray for them, and help support their spiritual journey. We celebrate their life and support their journey so they can rest in peace.
Traditionally, the departed children or babies are remembered on November 1, (Dia de los Inocentes), and November 2 focuses on the departed adults (aka All Souls Day). There is nothing somber or scary about the holiday. The dead come as spirits from another world to be with their living relatives and to visit in their homes. They do not come to scare or haunt as we believe Halloween spirits do. Dia de los Muertos is a special and unique holiday, it’s a great opportunity to expose yourself or your children to learn about other cultures. I’ve listed at the end of this blog several activities and events around the twin cities that you can participate or attend. This video does an amazing job of depicting the spirit of Dia de muertos in a 3min video, watch http://www.latina.com/lifestyle/our-issues/dia-de-los-muertos-short-film
How to celebrate Dia de los Muertos?
Building an ofrenda is the traditional and most common way to remember and honor a dear one that has passed. Some also go the tombstone of the deceased and decorate the ofrenda and celebrate right at the cemetary, in Mexico this is common, family and friends gather and sing, eat, and remember the deceased in a joyous manner.
If you are going to build an ofrenda, an altar to entice the deceased to come visit, traditionally, there are several components to include in building the ‘ofrenda’ (the “offerings”) . One of the most common elements are marigolds, or Flor del Muerto – Flower of the Dead. The flowers are thought to bring out the dead souls to feast on the offerings laid on the table or headstone.
The marigold came with Spanish traders to Africa and Europe. Wanting to disconnect it from the flower’s past, the breeding programs held in Africa and Europe gave this great flower the name of “African” and “French” marigold. After the flower was disconnected from its past reputation as the flower of death, it was introduced into the gardens of the world.
Today the flowers are prized by gardeners the world over for their long lived blooms that love the heat of summer. They are to be found in gardens across the world, a testament to the wonder of this wonderful flower of the dead.
The marigold most commonly used in Dia de los Muertos celebrations is the Targetes erecta or African Marigold, otherwise known as cempasúchil or flower of the dead. They will remove the petals from the flower and spread them on the ground to make a path to the house and to the grave. The pungent aroma of the marigold and the bright color of the yellow petals will guide the spirit to the home altar (ofrenda) and to the cemetery. Marigolds are also fashioned into elaborate arches for display on altars and graves. In some villages, people leave a trail of marigolds from their front door to their loved one’s grave, so that the deceased may easily find their way back home again. The attractive scent of the marigold is said to draw them back to earth for the yearly Dia de los Muertos reunion.
Since prehispanic times, this plant has had medicinal purposes and it is thought to cure stomach ache, parasites, diarrhea, liver illnesses, vomiting, and toothache among other illnesses. The flowers are still used in many areas to cure these and other ailments. All of these illnesses are said to be cured by a tea made from the flowers, eating the flowers, or wearing the flowers.
Salt and water are also essential; they are set to quench the thirst of the souls, tired from their long trip. Water also purifies and cleanses.
Incense, Copal, is burned and thought to elevate prayers to God. Pan de Muerto the breads are placed on shrines and altars as offerings for the deceased and are given to visitors arriving for the celebration. Pan de Muerto is shaped like a funeral mound…with a few extra bumpy protrusions. The ball and strips of dough decorating the top of the loaf represent the skull and limbs of the muerto peeking through the top of the mound. We like this summary best: The bones represent the disappeared one (difuntos or difuntas) and there is normally a baked tear drop on the bread to represents tears for the living. The bones are represented in a circle to portray the circle of life. It is sweet, fluffy, decorated in sugar, and most traditionally flavored with anise, cinnamon, and/or an orange zest flavor. Pan de Muerto is available in our panaderia
Papel picado is present as a symbol of wind/air, candles to light the way of the deceased. And favorite items, foods, beverages, hobbies are also commonly displayed on the altar of the deceased.
The most familiar symbol of Dia de los Muertos may be the calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls), which appear everywhere during the holiday: in candied sweets, as parade masks, as dolls. Calacas and calaveras are almost always portrayed as enjoying life, often in fancy clothes and entertaining situations.
All of these items can be found at El Burrito Mercado, every year we build an ofrenda and keep it on display through mid November. Our creative Resident Artist & Decorator, Denisea Elsola does an amazing job every year, visit us and get inspired. We hope you will consider building your own ofrenda and partake in this colorful celebration of life!
EN PAZ DESCANSEN NUESTROS QUERIDOS ESTRELLAS.