Food Feature: Tamales

What is a tamale?

A tamale is masa (corn) dough steamed in a corn husk, typically with cheese, meats, or beans.

The tamale is thought to have originated around 7000 B.C. in what is now Columbia. Because of it's portability and ability to be prepared ahead of time, tamales were a staple for Aztec armies. The historical importance of tamales can also be found in many Mesoamerican faiths. Many cultures believed that humans had been made from corn by God, and thus considered corn the "substance of life". They believed that by eating corn, you were reconnecting with the higher spirits.

Tamales were originally cooked by burying them in hot ashes, but as Spanish conquistadores influenced native culture, the tamale began to be steamed underground or in open pots. Tamales were wrapped in many mediums such as corn husks, soft tree bark, avocado or banana leaves, and even fabric.

While tamales are undeniably delicious, they have become better known for their extensive preparation process. Making tamales often takes a whole day or more and is known to be an art form. Because tamales take so long to make, they are often eaten around special holidays when extended family is around to lend a hand. This is often referred to as a 'tamalada'. Historically, for the same reasons, tamales were made as a part of spiritual and communal celebrations and gatherings.

Understanding the love and preparation that goes into making tamales makes them that much more delicious. Next time you visit Cuckoo's Nest, try our raved about Beef and Chicken Tamale Plate- it will truly take you back in time!*

*History mined from Austin Times and El Sabroson