Stores prepare for holiday tamale rush

Pro’s Ranch Market lead tamale maker Olga May, left, and her assistant Lala Hernandez make green chile tamales in anticipation of a rush of holiday orders at the store in Las Cruces, N.M. Enlarge photo

Robin Zielinski/Las Cruces Sun-News

Pro’s Ranch Market lead tamale maker Olga May, left, and her assistant Lala Hernandez make green chile tamales in anticipation of a rush of holiday orders at the store in Las Cruces, N.M.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Tamale fixings cover two long tables in the back corner of Pro’s Ranch Market: bags of corn husks, stacks of masa mix, tamale pots large and larger.

Shoppers pass by the display, stopping to watch as Olga May and Lala Hernandez demonstrate the art of tamale making.

Hernandez spreads a thin layer of masa on a wet corn husk. May adds a heaping of chicken and green chile filling to each one.

She folds them and wraps them in green-and-white checkered paper before placing them in the stack of tamales, ready to be steamed and sold in the store or bought by customers for the holidays.

“It is a very popular food in this area, especially around the holidays,” said Karim Martinez, program director and home economist at the Dońa Ana County Extension Office.

Tamales season starts at Halloween for Pro’s Ranch Market, said Sylvia Madrid, the hot foods manager at the Las Cruces store.

“The holiday seasons are upon us, and that’s one of our top sellers,” she said.

The tamale-making duo began the demonstration last week and will continue to January, May said.

Though Madrid prefers most of the tamales to be made in-store, she often has to order a few boxes from the company’s Phoenix warehouse to meet holiday demand.

Madrid was the top seller when she worked in the chain’s Albuquerque location, selling between 972 dozen and 1,500 dozen tamales. She did not have estimates on sales here because she recently relocated to the Las Cruces store.

Tamales mark the holidays, said Reyna Salinas, 27, a graphic designer who remembers watching her mom and grandma make tamales as a child.

“I would just stare at them because of how fast they would go, and then the way they fold the corn husk around – I didn’t get it, how they could put all that stuff into a corn husk and get it to stay,” Salinas said. “Mine would just fall apart.”

Her mother makes the tamales entirely from scratch, driving to Juárez for masa and to Hatch for fresh chiles to roast. She sells the tamales as well, but keeps the sweet ones for the family.

“I know a lot of other family friends that they get together the night before Christmas or Thanksgiving and get together and make them,” Salinas said. “It’s usually a bonding-type thing and getting to spend time with the loved ones around you.”

Tamales date back to 5,000 or 7,000 B.C. to the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas, Martinez said. They are still made up and down the hemisphere with corn husks or banana leaves, depending on the region, she said.

“Traditionally, here, you’ll see the masa, the cornmeal mixture, and you’ll have red chile or green chile,” Martinez said. “But you can make them with beans, you can make them with squash, you can make them sweet.”

The lard or shortening-filled masa is high in fat, she said, but is OK for infrequent eating on special occasions like holidays, baptisms or weddings.

“Since it’s for a special occasion, it’s a special food you can indulge in on the holidays,” she said.

At Pro’s Ranch, May and Martinez answer questions from shoppers, explaining the process, the ingredients, whether their tamales are sold in the store’s hot foods section. (They are.)

“Now I know where to get them,” one shopper said.

Pro’s Ranch sweet pineapple and strawberry tamales sell for $12.99 per dozen and their chicken, pork and beef tamales for $14.99 per dozen. Individual tamales cost $1.39.

No manner where you order from, tamale seekers would be wise to place a phone order at least 48 hours in advance, requesting the number and type of tamales, as well as when to pick them up.

Customers can freeze tamales for up to three months and can reheat them in the microwave or steam them, Madrid said.

For now, she said she has plenty of tamales in stock.

“That’s one thing I try not to sell out of,” she said.

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