The Texas cookbook author and recipe maestra shares her family’s connections to Lone Star State tamales at Christmas.
In the December installment of the Taste of the West newsletter, cookbook author Vianney Rodriguez shares a humorous tale that comes from her family’s traditions with Texas tamales at Christmastime. The story she recounts came from an interview too great not to share as a whole. The full interview is below. If you hurry, you just might get her books, The Tex-Mex Slow Cooker: 100 Delicious Recipes for Easy Everyday Meals and Latin Twist: Traditional and Modern Cocktails (co-written with Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack), in time to place them under the tree.
Cowboys & Indians: What is the cultural importance of tamales in Texas?
Vianney Rodriguez: Making, eating tamales is all about amor y familia. Spending time with familia, passing down family recipes, learning for our elders' tamales provide us a chance bond with our family. Often given as gifts for the holidays I believe tamales gives us so much more in return. The memories made during our tamalada are priceless. Looking at photos of my abuelita who has passed, memories of her showing my daughter how to spread the masa and to know that the tradition of making tamales with the family will continue are the greatest gifts.
C&I: What is between Mexican and Tex-Mex tamales — aside from the hundreds of variations of tamales in Mexico?
Rodriguez: The seasonings can differ from each region, from using fresh chiles sauce to using freshly ground chile spices each Mexican and Tex-Mex home cook adds their own personal touch. Also, the fillings can reflect where the cook is from, pork, chicken, venison or deer. This is what I adore about tamales, they reflect the region, the family recipe and love for their heritage.
C&I: Why are tamales so important during Christmas in Texas?
Rodriguez: It wouldn’t be Christmas without tamales. The smell of tamales steaming on the stove-top reminds me of my childhood, my abuelita, mami and aunts and uncles all huddled in my abuelita’s kitchen. Tamales are a traditional dish served at Christmas, but they’re so much more than that for many families here in South Texas. Tamales are a deeply rooted connection with our past, our present and our future. The communal event of making tamales, a tamalada, goes beyond coming together to create this aromatic treat. Making tamales with family and friends is a way to share a loving, cultural connection while passing on the tradition to future generations.
C&I: Do you have any specific family traditions with tamales during Christmas?
Rodriguez: I do, we have a family tamalada every year. We come together as a family to make tamales, a TON of tamales. My abuelita used to host this event, then it was passed on to my mami, now I host it. A tamalada is a wonderful way to preserve tradition while creating new traditions and plenty of memories. A tamalada is also a wonderful way to honor those who came before you. For the last five years, I have been given the honor, or as my little brother puts it, been handed down the torch, to host our annual tamalada.
At first, it scared the crap out of me, after all, this is huge. The first year there was a few bumps in the process. I didn’t make enough fillings for all the masa we made. Another year we ran out of husks midday and we had to rush from store to store to purchase more. Last year my dishwasher exploded — the entire kitchen flooded. It was a mess. But luckily, my little brother was able to fix the pipe as the kids mopped up the floor. We all laughed and kept on making our tamales.
It was a messy, unorganized, memorable day that I will never forget. And it was all worth it as we sat at the table enjoying the first batch of fresh tamales straight from the pot. Piping hot, with a sprinkle of salt. Delicious. A tamalada is truly a family affair. From prepping to mixing, to spreading, to filling hosting a tamalada, it is truly a labor of love. But it is so worth it.
For more about Vianney Rodriguez, visit her website, Sweet Life. The Tex-Mex Slow Cooker: 100 Delicious Recipes for Easy Everyday Meals and Latin Twist: Traditional and Modern Cocktails are available for purchase on Amazon.
Photography: Courtesy Vianney Rodriguez
Subscribe to the forthcoming monthly Taste of the West e-newsletter below.