The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Rodriguez: Training for the 'tamalada'


Helena Rodriguez

I’m not fluent in Spanish. I speak Spanglish, a mix of Spanish and English, but I conveniently understand bad words and when someone offers me food. Someone once asked me if I make tamales. No, I don’t, unless you count the once a year I help out at my church.

With that said, I do have aspirations of hosting my own tamale cook-off in my home, like maybe this Christmas season. Sometimes you just have to sink your manos into the masa, a la Nike, and just do it!

I remember watching my parents and tios and tias make tamales in our kitchen on North Ave. B. Street in Portales, under the direction of Grandma Chaya, when I was a little girl. We never made tamales again, until about 10 or 11 years ago when Grandma Chaya came to visit my parents in Portales. I slowly started getting the hang of spreading some masa and filling in these savory, steamed, cornmeal pies with pork chile, and then folding them over like little Christmas bundles.

When I moved to Hobbs in 2011, I began volunteering at my church, St. Helena’s, to help make tamales for our Family Fair. That first time, I felt like more of a hindrance than a help as the tamale veterans showed me how to spread the masa. I really hated doing that part. I opted to put in the filling and fold them over. However, over the past two years, I’ve become more of an expert in spreading a little dough around. Since I’m not in year-round tamale training, I usually have to warm up first and then it slowly starts coming back to me. That’s how I know I’m on the road to not being a tamale rookie anymore.

Of course, I’m learning to cheat a little along the way. I first saw a “tamale masa spreader” about five years ago when I wrote a story about a woman, Luisa Rodriguez, who makes tamales in Hobbs. Her brother had brought a tamale spreader from Lubbock. And then, as I was helping my church make tamales last weekend, my friend Maria Vick, had a tamale spreader she had bought in San Antonio. A tamaler spread basically looks like a plastering trowel, a long flat blade ready to spread something flat. After stopping and thinking a moment, “What would Grandma Chaya do,” I picked up Maria’s spreader, and next thing I knew, that dough was being spread across those hojas faster than you can say, “hot tamales!”

Helena Rodriguez is a Portales native. Contact her at:

[email protected]


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