Back in 1972, four cousins gathered together the weekend after Thanksgiving to try to reconstruct the special Christmas Eve tamales made by their grandmother, Gonzala Ruiz, who had passed away the year before. An excellent cook, she had left behind no written recipe—only her oldest daughter, Esther Ruiz Ancira (Tia Tela)—knew how to make the beloved tamales. So they gathered the ingredients and let Tía Tela carefully taste each step of the way as they wrote down every detail and measurement. Nothing was left to chance or memory.
That first tamalada in Carmen Salas Tyler’s Austin kitchen is now an annual two-day tradition (it moved eight years ago to Laura Teran’s Cedar Park home). It has expanded to include 22 family members from across Texas as well as Maryland, North Carolina, and New York. “After 45 years, the female family fellowship is as important as the tamales,” Tyler says.
This year, over a weekend of laughter-filled assembly lines, family memories, and lots of prepping and cooking, the women made 225 dozen tamales filled with either stewed pork loin or black beans, jalapeños, and cheese and surrounded by their flavorful masa and corn husk wrappings. Not everyone involved got to take tamales home, though. Like all good rituals, there is a hierarchy and system that has stood the test of time, much like the tamale, which dates back to the Mayans and Aztecs. Now spanning four generations, the Ruiz family tamalada shows no signs of slowing down.