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Turkey, mashed potatoes, and ... tamales?

Mexican culinary tradition becoming American holiday classic

Posted: December 23, 2013 3:52 p.m.
Updated: December 23, 2013 3:52 p.m.

From left, Maria Garbay and Margarita Pena add sauce and chicken to tamales as Balvina Ortiz, right, folds corn husks around them and places finished tamales on a pan for steaming at Jazmin's Bakery. Jazmin's orders for tamales triple in December. Signal photo by Dan Watson

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SANTA CLARITA - The Bernabe family from Jazmin’s Bakery in Newhall sells about 6,000 tamales on an average month. But in December, that number triples to 20,000.

The culinary delight from Mexico is a tradition in many Latino households. But during Christmas time the appeal becomes broader, the bakery’s numbers show.

“The demand for tamales has increased tremendously,” said owner Juan Bernabe. “(Christmas) is the busiest time out of the year for us at the bakery. Because our tamale demands continue to increase every year, we had to come up with an effective system to complete the orders in time for our customers.”

That system includes two days of prepping and a full-time staff of approximately 10 employees working increments of nine hours a day, seven days a week.

“Each of my employees has a specific job assigned to them when we start the process of making our tamales,” Bernabe said. “One the first day we prepare the salsas, cook the meats, and sort out the corn leaves.

“On the second day we combine all the ingredients together and steam the tamales. We repeat the same process the next day.”

The corn and seasoned meat bundles come in an assortment of flavors, and a growing number of families of all types are serving tamales at their dinner table during the holiday season.

“It’s just not Christmas without tamales,” said SCV resident Christina Kneisler. “It’s been in my family tradition for generations, and for as long as I could remember, we always have tamales as our main dish for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.”

At its most basic, a tamale is made of masa, or cornmeal batter, filled with meat and sometimes vegetables. The meat is wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and steamed until the dough is cooked.

Tamales are typically made in three flavors: red chile pork, green chile cheese and green chile chicken.

Because making tamales requires a certain tactile knowledge, and more than two sets of hands for preparation, many families are lining up at the nearest Mexican bakery to get their hands on the seasoned meat bundles.

“We used to have a lady that would make tamales for our family every Christmas,” Kneisler said. “Years later she moved to a different town and we were left with no tamales. It took us a while to find a place where they make them tasteful and authentic.”

One of the places she came across was Jazmin’s Bakery.

“Everyone orders their tamales at Jazmin’s,” Kneisler.

Santa Clarita resident Bob Doyle has carried on the family tradition by ordering a fresh batch of tamales during Christmas.

“It’s the best food choice to have during Christmas,” said Doyle. “The warm taste and authentic flavor brings the family together.”




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