When I moved to California I discovered Tamales, a Mexican specialty, often reserved for holidays, wedding anniversaries, birthdays and festivals of one type or another. Now you can buy already prepared masa, the fine corn meal flour that is blended with broth, seasonings and shortening of some type. The masa is spread thinly onto corn leaves, then all is folded over a delicious filling that can vary by what part of Mexico you come from. A specialty food is often defined by how difficult the dish is to make, thus made only on special occasions. Tamales are a lot of work and require a lengthy steaming. Many Mexican restaurants don’t even serve tamales. I’ve sampled tamales over the years that didn’t live up to those made by my high school best friend, Kathy Romero’s family. The search has been on-going. Those on the plate above were sold to me by a woman named Hope who brings them to her friends at the Moose Club in San Xaviar. At once, I knew I had found the right thing. Moist cornmeal, slightly spicy, with an olive in each one. Hope learned from her grandmother how to make beef and chicken tamales that are delicious, melt in your mouth. In 2009, Jim and I found a woman in Yuma who made the same wonderful tamales. When we returned this year, she had moved on. They are a delectable work of art.
Another Moose Club member, Paul, the evening before we left, brought me a dozen of his grandmother’s tamales. They are fresh corn, chili-cheese tamales. I had never tasted anything quite like them. They were sweet like a desert with a slight tang of spice in the chili with the cheese. The cornmeal was very tender and moist. The result delicious as they were different. Specialty dishes are as special as the families that make them. To get a good tamale, you have to “know somebody.”
While I was partaking of the local tamales in Arizona, my youngest son and daughter visited friends, Norma and Jose Tapia and got a lesson in tamale making. I can tell what will be on the Christmas menu this year. What a delight to learn a skill Norma and Hope both learned from their grandmothers. (I hope they saved one for me.)
We had been in the O’odham territory for a couple of weeks where I have seen drawings or pictures of the Indians harvesting cactus fruits. It made me wonder what the cactus fruits taste like. I like to taste new foods and when my opportunity came I tried the fruit from a barrel cactus.
It has a sticky moist texture and tastes like lemon with an after taste of bell pepper when you bite into it raw. The seeds are very tiny and hard and have little taste when crunched individually. I could see cactus flowers making a nice addition to any dish using lemon or bell pepper. As a fruit out of hand, they qualify as good. Possibly jucier if I’d picked it earlier in the season. A survivalist at heart, I like to learn about edible wild plants. It made a nice addition to my salad and I regretted not picking several. The next flower I meet, I’ll cook with it.
We moved on to New Mexico, and I returned to Murphys as I do each year for tax season and to catch up with things at home. Being a foodie, I revel in tasting new foods. I’ve tasted burro meat burritos, two excellent tamales, and a cactus fruit on this trip from mid January to mid March. No matter where you travel, you find good food. Sampling area specialties is one of the joys traveling.