Ever wonder what 70 pounds of masa looks like?
Those are 14 five-pound bags of masa in dear friend Malena’s trunk. Imagine that combined with several stacks of lard bricks – 30 pounds of Snow Cap manteca, to be precise – courtesy of the trimmest among us, Trish.
This is what we do with that.
And that’s just for starters. Our annual creation tradition requires bags and bags and bags – and bags! – of chiles. Chris, a native of New México, brings the chiles from Eddie Diaz’s farm outside of Deming where they are picked, roasted and frozen all in one day.
Our emphasis is always on green chiles (30 pounds this year) …
… but Chris included two gallons of red this year, mainly for Karen, who filled three large crockpots with shredded pork just for the occasion.
And let’s not forget the 15 pounds of grated Monterey Jack cheese, six large bags of fresh corn kernels, 12 cans of cream-style corn and seven bags of soaked husks … together with requisite baking powder and salt.
Oh yeah, and 60 one-gallon ziploc bags, each of which is perfect for sealing a dozen fat tamales….
This year we made 624 tamales – more if you count the tamales “taste-tested” by workforce members at the end of the day. This was hardly a record, but we seemed to work at a snail’s pace this year. We started before 10 a.m. and didn’t wrap up until close to 5 p.m.
Thank goodness Karen and (a different) Chris’ kitchen can handle the crowd – and the mess.
The chile-cleaners quickly got to work. It took hours for Tom and team to peel, rinse and chop the fiery fruit. Most of us wear gloves to prevent stinging skin and burning eyes. But Tom never does, and he never seems to suffer for it.
Here’s a shot of Tom and Trish hard at work.
And one of Greg and Trish and Barry.
That’s quite a bowl of chile, Greg!
Meanwhile, Chris (the one with New Mexico roots) and Karen kept the masa-mixing on track.
Georges took a turn steaming the husks.
Soon, it was time to start painting the husks with masa, spooning in the chile and then rolling them into neat rounds with folded bottoms. Kelly and Chris, and then Karen and Kim led the way.
G got into the act, too.
Along the way, we enjoyed homemade pozole and egg-and-chorizo burritos for sustenance. (Thank you, Karen! Thank you, Chris!) Here are Yvonne and Jesse on quality-control tasting duty.
It looks like their kids, Diego and Penelope, were having fun, too. That’s an egg Diego found in the backyard and a swing Penelope found irresistible.
In between the chopping, churning and chatting we imbibed our favorite wines, many of them from Paso Robles, California. This is my favorite.
For the record: Women aren’t the only ones who like to chit chat. Check out G and Chris (the one without the New Mexico roots) jawboning by the stove.
One of the best things about this annual event is catching up with friends …
… and meeting new friends. The kitchen chatter always includes English and Spanish; this year we added a sprinkling of Portuguese. (Thank you, David and Andrea.) And we’re a multi-generational bunch. Kim’s father, Walt (center below), joined us this year, just days before his 85th birthday.
This tradition has quite a history. The same dozen-plus Phoenix stalwarts have gathered in Karen and Chris’ kitchen every December for years to make hundreds of tamales together. This core group of tamale makers – with Malena, Karen and the female Chris in the lead – have honed this mega-effort to a fine art. They hand out grocery assignments well in advance and collect the requisite monster bowls, pots and pans to assure product success.
An additional dozen or so of special one-time invitees rotate through each year to help, which infuses the whole organized-chaos process with an intensified din of chatter, churning, mixing and munching.
Nobody remembers for sure how many years we’ve been doing this. Best guess is about 19. We started before G and I decamped from Phoenix to Dallas 16 years ago (we’ve made it back only a few times since) and it’s still going strong.
The very best part?
Everybody heads home with dozens of tamales to enjoy throughout the holidays and into the new year.
[Special thanks to the notoriously camera-shy Malena for providing many of these photos!]