Ever since I can remember, my dad’s family has gotten together prior to Mardi Gras Day (aka Fat Tuesday) to carry out a family tradition. My grandparents’ home is right along the parade route in Metairie just west of downtown New Orleans, so we’ve always celebrated the carnival season at there house. I will tell you that last year we did not stick to tradition because my grandparents were feeling tired and overwhelmed with the whole situation. But this year tradition continues.
On Sunday, several of my family members got together at the grandparents’ house to roll hot tamales. Long ago, when I was just a kid, I remember my very Italian Great Uncle Leo who led the tamale making process. It was his recipe after all. He had a strong personality and was not the most appealing to watch mix the meat by hand in his white, ribbed tank of an undershirt. Mom always reminds me of the way he tasted the raw seasoned meat mixture to ensure it was correct prior to beginning the rolling process. Yuck! Unfortunately, he is deceased, but through the hot tamales he lives on.
Yesterday we had eight people helping to roll the two large pots full of tamales. There are several important jobs that are done throughout the process. There is the squeezer who uses an icing bag with a wide tip to squeeze the meat into long skinny tubes.
Then there is the person who cuts the longer strips into about 2 inch bite sized pieces and tosses them into cornmeal. Another important job is the paper wetters. They dip the tamale papers into a bowl of water so that they can be manipulated and rolled. Above you can see my two cousins—one is putting the rolled tamale into one of the pots that will be filled and the other partially seen cousin in the background is separating the papers.
Here I am; I have been rolling these bad boys since before I was a pre-teen.
Next, it is placed on the corner of the pre-soaked tamale paper.
Then the tamale is rolled halfway, the excess paper is folded over on top of the tamale. And then it is rolled the rest of the way. I don’t have pictures of the exact technique but there is one. Below is my attempt at showing you.
Then the tamale is put into the pot that will be heated on the stovetop with the addition of a tomato spiced sauce.
So that is how I spent my Sunday–along with pizza and fried chicken and brownies courtesy of my aunts for helping out. My husband tagged along to help out as well and he without me knowing snapped all of the above pictures, so to him I am grateful.
Now, the feast is ready all for Mardi Gras Day! Just in case you don’t know, Mardi Gras is a celebration of feasting and partying the day before the start of the Lenten Season leading up to Easter. The celebration actually starts two weeks prior to Fat Tuesday with parades and king cakes well before just after the New Year.
Today I went and purchased two king cakes for tomorrow.
King Cakes are cinnamon twisted doughy cakes covered in purple, green, and gold sugar in honor of the three kings who found their way to baby Jesus. So inside the cake you will find a tiny plastic baby representing bay Jesus. Tradition has it that the person who gets the baby will have luck and they must also bring the next king cake to the next social event. As for the colors, purple represents justice, green faith, and gold power.
I leave you with a video of a parade we went to on Friday night out in Metairie. The guy with the jacket is a good friend of ours who had one too many drinks as you might be able to see.