My relationship with tamales has been a long and delicious one. I am sure that I began eating them long before I was even able to say the word properly. They are practically their own food group in my family, and on the first day of each new year, they are the centerpiece of and the most coveted item on our table.
My mom used to make tamales from scratch. If I close my eyes, I can see her working away, preparing the masa and cooking the meat. In her later years, instead of corn husks, she would sometimes use aluminum foil, which I’ve always thought was ingenious and funny. While the tamales steamed, the whole house was filled with the pungent aroma of the chili powder, cumin, and other rich spices that she had used. When I was old enough to help, I became a part of an eager assembly line of siblings who had various jobs that helped see the tamales from start to completion. Of course, my favorite job was taste tester, and I was always happy to volunteer my services.
At noon on the first day of the new year, we would fill our plates with all those edible symbols of good luck and prosperity: tamales, black-eyed peas, collard greens, ham, and cornbread. Before we ate, we’d always bow our heads and give thanks for this first meal of the new year. As we ate, we’d talk about how we’d rung in the new year, how little we had all slept, and what our hopes and wishes and goals for the new year were. This has been my family’s tradition for longer than I can remember. What the new year always brings is a great reason for everyone to come together, to share a meal, and to bask in the glow of the love that we have for each other before we return to our busy lives after the holidays.
This year, out of curiosity, I looked up New Year’s traditions. Of course, eating specific foods that symbolize wealth and health is universal, but something that I’d never heard of was the tradition of eating twelve grapes. This is supposed to bring good luck for the whole year, so figuring that a little more luck couldn’t hurt, when I went to Lowe’s, I picked up a bag of grapes and picked out exactly twelve for everyone who would be partaking in our New Year’s meal. Because most of what we eat is savory, the sweetness of the grapes was a welcomed addition. I am pretty sure that they will be making a return appearance next year.
As my family gathered to eat our first meal of the new year, I couldn’t help but think about my mom. She was an excellent cook, so I often find myself trying to mimic the way she did things in the hopes that my food will come out as delicious as hers did. When she passed away, I worried that we had lost the glue that held us together, but what I’ve learned is that love compels my family to keep doing what we’ve always done. We know that it is important to come together and celebrate as a family, not only because it is what my mom would have wanted, but because it’s what we all want, as well. What I have learned is that, no matter whether it is an old tradition or a new one, what is most important is the people who are celebrating those traditions with you.
Note: This blog appeared as an article in the 1/5/17 edition of the Kinney County Post.