Despite yesterday’s reading list, today I was seduced by the tamale.
Precolumbian people respected maize and treated it with elaborate etiquette. Women carefully blew on kernels before placing them in the cooking pot to give them courage for confronting the fire. Once every eight years they “rested” the corn, cooking it plainly, “for we brought much torment to it—we ate it, we put chili on it, we salted it…we added lime. And we tired it to death, so we revived it.”
That’s from Jeffrey M. Pilcher in Que Vivan los Tamales! Food and the Making of Mexican Identity (1998, pg. 17).
Much of the book is about how the national ruling elite of Mexico has historically followed a European lead and sought to distance themselves and the dominant political discourse from the peasantry (not a rare thing in 19th and 20th century nationalism). Pilcher focuses on how this was done by attempts to replace maize by wheat in the national diet (very unsuccessful with most of the population, the subsistence farmers). He really doesn’t amplify how this was also accomplished in language (Spanish over indigenous languages), dress (replacement of traditional or Colonial garments), and in the market economy (widespread changes too complicated to detail here). As a historian, I thought he might….
Now, however, these most Mexican of prehispanic traditions are touted in tourism advertising, and considered the biggest selling point both to foreigners and to Mexicans.
Me, I’m craving a trip out Buford Highway to find some genuine tamales handmade by a tamale lady, which are superb reheated in the microwave.