The American Thanksgiving meal is not so American anymore. This isn’t surprising to those of us living in the southwest. Those of us that love to eat tamales during the holidays.
What is it about tamales that make us smile cheek to cheek? Is it the smell that seems to fill up each room in the house? Is it the unwrapping of husks revealing a beautifully shaped delight? Maybe it’s the sight of the hard-working women, sometimes several generations in one room, laboring for hours to bring joy and memories for family and friends.
Tamales represent the best in Mexican-American values. The main ingredient, maize, comes from the earth. It’s a hardy grain, sometimes sweet and always useful. Maize is the most widely grown grain in the Americas.
The cooked tamale looks the same on the outside. But once the cornhusk is removed, a tasty filling is revealed in the form of beef, pork, chicken or cheese. No two tamales are the same.
Then there’s the lard. Out of fashion for today’s healthy eaters, tamale fans know that some traditions should not be bothered. Lard helps define the best tasting tamales. A little fat goes a long way.
What makes something like tamales culturally important? In an age where the commercialization and high demand for food have made machine processed meals ordinary, tamales are almost medieval, born from hours of hard work, usually by middle-aged women.
Tamales worth eating take time to make. Hours of telling stories and sharing secrets. Afternoons of molding, shaping, stuffing, and wrapping. Evenings of laughing, unwrapping, and serving.
Underneath their humble husks, tamales are much more sophisticated than they look. They are frozen and served for weeks. They travel well and are shared across communities. A batch of tamales is what enlightened Europeans to realize that civilization did exist in Mexico when Spanish conquistadores returned home with them during the sixteenth century.
Each chunk of America has her own set of favorite comfort foods. The Irish, Scottish and Germans have influenced Thanksgiving and its colorful dishes. For us in the southwest, we too will be enjoying the classic Thanksgiving servings of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. And to be sure, a portion of our plates will be left empty for a hearty serving of tamales.
Come to think of it, Thanksgiving in America remains very American. Like a melting pot, through time the holiday adapts and slightly changes according to the influences of those in the kitchen. A beautiful new fusion of dishes and offerings speak to the people that come together on this special day to celebrate.
The tradition of eating tamales represents the values of family, kindness, sharing and humility for which we should all be blessed. For that I’m thankful.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on November 25, 2015.