Love in a Cornhusk: The Tamales Ritual Makes Family Friends

For centuries, food and diet have helped connect lives and cultures. As part of the North Star Journey project, MPR News reached out to Twin Cities food writer Mecca Bos to share stories about iconic cultural dishes and how the rituals of preparing and eating food can bring people together.

Me and my friend Jeremy Moran bonded over tamales.

Katie Myre, who knew us both, recognized our shared love for tamales. She introduced us and boom, now we love each other. We make tamales together, and it brings us closer. That’s how tamales work.

Jeremy Moran assists Mecca Bos with a ripped corn husk during a tamale rally on Sunday March 27, 2022.

Nicole Neri for MPR News

Jeremy was born and raised in the Bronx, and came to Minnesota in 2015 to pursue a relationship. Then he got a great job. Then he got married. They bought a house, so it’s his house now.

But without a real taste of his other home, he was too homesick to really call Minnesota home.

So he called his mom and started asking her about her cooking. And her mother’s cooking. And thanks to making masa wrapped in corn husks, he started to feel better.

“I want to continue not just for me, but for her,” Jeremy recalled of those early phone calls. “To have those moments where I was first learning how to make tamales and FaceTiming him from Minnesota and being like, ‘Hey, what’s that like? That’s my masa!’ And with a not-so-great connection or video quality, she might look at it and be like, “You forgot the lard, right?” And I was just like, ‘Yeah, I did. . You’re right. I’ll bend some right now!”

People are rolling tamales together.

Mecca Bos mixes its masa to the right consistency at a tamale rolling rally on Sunday.

Nicole Neri for MPR News

Jeremy spoke as I joined him, Katie, and another friend — Chef Sean Sherman of Minneapolis Native restaurant Owamni — to put together a batch of tamales.

It’s about as iconic as a Mexican dish: corn dough mixed with lard and broth, wrapped around meat, vegetables or cheese, then wrapped again in corn husk or a banana leaf and steamed. Usually it’s a communal effort with family and friends coming together to do dozens and dozens at a time.

Someone drizzles sauce over a tamal while another person watches.

Jeremy Moran adds red sauce to a pork tamale adobo as chef Sean Sherman watches.

Nicole Neri for MPR News

“That’s how you get all the chism,” Jeremy says.

“Chisme” means gossip in Spanish.

And yes, while you’re rolling tamales, it’s a great time to laugh, talk, chat, and bond.

People are rolling tamales together.

Jeremy Moran and Katie Myhre eat fries and Oaxaca cheese with the red sauce left over after all the tamales have been rolled.

Nicole Neri for MPR News

“It’s definitely a lot better with people,” Jeremy said. “It is. Traditionally, it’s an assembly line. There’s a hierarchy to the manufacturing process. It’s like young kids who don’t mix masa or cook anything, you make them clean the ball of corn and just make sure it is fully soaked so that it can actually be used for the tamale making process.

Making food like tamales together is like a language, perhaps offering even more intuitive or visceral communication than talking to each other. It’s a story, a story, a culture. It is a family line that can be passed on even when words or other stories may fail or get lost.

People add masa to corn husk for tamal.

Mecca Bos and Jeremy Moran add masa to their corn husks.

Nicole Neri for MPR News

For me and Jeremy, tamales are a perfect snapshot of this phenomenon.

“It’s about connecting as a first-generation Mexican American,” Jeremy said. “It’s about connecting to this homeland, connecting to my mother’s culture, connecting to what she went through, what my grandmother went through, etc. You can always work in this direction. It’s just something you invest in, and it pays off, you know? »

I know.

While it might be easier to meet at a bar and grab a beer, the extra work and effort it takes to roll a hundred tamales pays off in a way that goes beyond the experience. bonding to accomplish this task together. Jeremy calls tamales “love in a corn husk.”

People are rolling tamales together.

Rows of tamales wait to be transferred to a steaming pot during a tamal rolling rally on Sunday, March 27, 2022.

Nicole Neri for MPR News

This means that when we are done with the task, once all the tamales are stacked inside the pot and steamed, cooled and wrapped in freezer foil, we can pass them on to our friends and family until the freezer is empty.

Then it’s time for another session. These people can really taste this love and they will look forward to the next batch.

“For me it was holidays, birthdays – it was very special,” Jeremy recalls of his childhood tamales. “And then when I found out that ‘Oh my God, that’s so much work – then it got even more special to share with my friends and say, ‘Hey, that’s what I did for you.”

And what tamales do for me and for Jeremy – this shared ritual – is help us break down imaginary boundaries and lines, and make our friendship feel like family.

“I still remember my first attempt to get here. I did this with a friend I had from work. And being someone who moved to Minnesota, making friends wasn’t always easy. But being able to say, ‘Hey, let’s do this together.’ We got to know each other better. »

Tamales don’t have time for imaginary boundaries.

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