Good tamales don’t come from can

By Grant McGee: Local columnist


There, on the front page of a Sunday edition of the “Clovis News Journal,” was a picture of tamales being made. Now, didn’t that make me hungry?

Marie Gomez was working with a bunch of masa, some tasty-looking pork and a pan of corn husks. She was making tamales for the Lighthouse Mission’s Christmas dinner.

I like tamales. Don’t ask me why, they’re just good food. Unwrapping that hot husk, dropping it on the plate, cutting into that homey-tasting masa and tender pork — mmmm!

The first tamales I had were out of a can on a Boy Scout camping trip. I saw my scoutmaster open a can of tamales, set it by the campfire, then pull out the tamales one by one and woof ’em down. They sure looked good. Most campouts after that I packed cans of tamales.

After I moved to The Great American Southwest, I found out good tamales did not come from a can. I learned that making tamales was not an easy task, it’s a labor of love, and that’s why they ain’t cheap.

I ran into my first tamale lady in Roswell. Tamale ladies go door to door in a neighborhood selling tamales by the dozen. When you answer her knock she smiles and says, “Tamales?”

At first I was a little skeptical, but then I realized that if she wanted repeat business the tamales better be good.

When I lived near the frontier of Arizona and Sonora, the tamale ladies came from across the border from the town of Agua Prieta. They usually brought two kinds of tamales, the ones with seasoned meat and green corn tamales. The green corn ones were about a dollar less than the ones with meat.

Green corn tamales were basically all masa with seasoning and corn. One week I’d by some red tamales and a couple of weeks later I’d get a dozen of the green corn ones.

One time the tamale lady came by with no tamales. She had run out, but she was taking orders because her sister was back home making up a fresh batch. I paid her for a dozen and asked her to leave them on my front gate if I wasn’t in.

I went out on some errand, came back and waited for my tamales. Just when I was beginning to think the tamale lady had made some easy money, I remembered someone who might know where my tamales were.

I went to a nearby house where a bunch of kids lived. They were good kids, but one was a 2-year-old who seemed to be always running naked through the neighborhood and getting into mischief. His name was Danny.

When Danny saw me at his door he ran and hid behind his mom and started crying. I think he knew why I was at his house.

“Hey Danny, do you know where my tamales are?” I said, smiling.

He nodded up and down then ran away. Soon he was back with my bag of tamales. “Thank you,” I said. I headed back to my place with the remaining four of my dozen tamales.

Tamales are on the list of foods I love here in the Southwest, along with burritos, frijoles, enchiladas, posole, sopapillas, tortillas and salsa. But with all due respect and a polite smile, I’ll pass on the menudo.

Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: