I love tamales. There is something about the smell of the masa and red chili sauce that is so homey. I recently got the Rick Bayless Mexican cookbook and used his method of making the masa dough. I love his books and have tried several of the recipes. His show never fails to make me hungry. When I was a kid we mostly ate beans and rice and tortillas with salsa. The tortillas were made by us, of course, this predating the time of packaged flour tortillas. On Sunday or Monday my mother would cook up a pot of beans (pinto) and they would be soupy and eaten as soup the first day. They would gradually get thicker through the week until they ended up as frijoles. Sometimes we would get tostadas, a real treat. We were allowed about four each so someone was detailed to run around the house asking everyone what they wanted, soft tortillas or crispy tortillas. Then a little list would be written for the person frying the corn tortillas. Soft tortillas were just briefly fried and crispy ones were like a big corn chip. They were then spread with frijoles, shredded lettuce, and salsa, or my favorite, catsup. My mother was a real expert at feeding a big family for very little money, lessons I have used all during my life.
To make the flour tortillas, she would mix up the dough and form it into many many little greased balls, stacked in a bowl. Then we would all be called into the kitchen, boys as well as girls, and be assigned a spot around the big table. We would roll out the tortillas and my mother would cook them on a long oval griddle that fit over two stove burners. I sometimes cooked them and was taught to let the first side cook for about 15 seconds, the second for about 10 seconds. Pretty soon there was a big stack of lovely warm tortillas and we would each get one to spread butter on and stuff into our hungry mouths. My brothers could roll out nice round circles but I was famous for my lopsided Australia shaped tortillas.
Meat in any form was a great treat, and some of the favorite dishes were hamburger and potatoes, spaghetti, and a creole type dish made with beef heart. I know this sounds disgusting but since my mom cut the meat up into pristine little cubes and you could not tell what it had once been, we were able to enjoy it. It was in a creole sauce with tomatoes and green peppers and served over rice. This acceptance did not extend to beef tongue, however. This was served to us one night in the form of retangular pieces just like a slice of Spam, and we were ready to eat it until my brother Joel picked his up and went "Lick, Lick!" with his piece, making a licking motion in his sister's face. After that it was all uphill.
The dishes we ate off of then were a yellowish Melamine. Those dishes had many adventures...I wonder if any of it is left.