No, it’s not tamales – though that’s a good guess!
Tamales are a holiday tradition among Mexicans everywhere – and they were for Ramon Resa too. Ramon was a Mexican American farmworker boy who grew up in California’s Central Valley. Though living in dire poverty, his family pulled out the stops on holidays, especially Christmas when the family made tamales every year.
The first step to making tamales is to get the pork ready. Ramon’s family did this by holding a hog slaughter where they gathered round and one of the men shot the hog in the head with a .22 rifle. Then the butchering began (if you ever want to learn about how to butcher an animal, you can read all about it in Chapter 7 of Ramon’s memoir “Out of the Fields: My Journey from Farmworker Boy to Pediatrician“). Once butchered, the pork was thrown it into a big black kettle with boiling water, like the witches’ ones in fables.
Two hours later, when the meat was almost cooked, one of the aunts added her signature “Red New Mexican Chiles” chili. The chile was poured into the pot and everyone in the family got some. Once the pot was empty, Ramon and the other kids would run into the kitchen to grab some homemade corn tortillas right off the gas stove and rushed back outside to eat their fill. Ramon remembers this like it was yesterday.
Decades later, I still don’t know anything that tastes better than scooping a fresh corn tortilla into the kettle for a mouthful of hot chili with its metallic iron taste from the pot, especially outside on a cold, crisp winter day. ~ Ramon Resa
The next day was Tamale Day. In the morning, with the hog’s head having roasted all night, the girls and women (and sometimes the boys) in the family formed an assembly line where they put together chili, cornmeal, corn husks and the meat from the head. Then the tamales were stacked in a large pot to steam.
Ramon helped to make them for many years and thought he knew how to do it. However, he learned otherwise in college.
In the spring of 1974, during my sophomore year at Santa Cruz, we Chicano students decided to make a Mexican meal for about five hundred minority high school students who were visiting the campus. We thought this would help recruit them. Since all of us had helped make tamales in our homes, we decided by an overwhelming vote that that’s what we would serve. Five hundred tamales.
But … it turned out that none of us actually knew how to make them. We’d only watched and helped out a little. So we all got on the phone to our families to get the recipes and instructions. We did end up making five hundred tamales … but we stacked them so tightly in the pot that the steam didn’t reach them all and some of our recruits got sick. ~ Ramon Resa
Tamales are still a favorite for Ramon. He loves them as an entree for any meal. However, his DeathbedFood is something else.
My favorite meal when I’m really hungry is to cook refried beans in a ton of lard and eat them with flour tortillas. They taste fantastic in lard. ~ Ramon Resa
As executive producer of RAMON RISING, the documentary about Ramon Resa’s journey from abandoned boy to pediatrician, I work with Ramon frequently. I’m this post inspires him to make me some tamales served with lotsa lard. *crossing fingers*
RAMON RISING is in production now. We are seeking donors and sponsors. Your contribution means the film will get released in 2018! Contact me @DeathbedFood to learn more.
For previews and more film information: RamonRising.film