Denise Morgan came to the Tamales for Toys event at Gerardo’s on Saturday, Nov. 23 to help the kids of Payson, but it reminded her of how her family helped with tamales during the holiday season.
“My grandmother and auntie made lots of tamales and gave them as a home-cooked meal to families,” said Morgan.
She grew up in San Diego in a family with a Hispanic background. Morgan had memories of her grandmother spending hours in the kitchen, just as the volunteers for the Tamales for Toys event do every year.
Despite the chilly, wet weather, Morgan, her daughter Breeze and their next-door neighbor Makyla Hill, brought three bags of toys to help the children of Payson Community Kids.
As firefighters circulated to make sure guests had all they needed, Morgan unpeeled her tamale and dug in, “This is our first year coming and we’ll come again for sure,” she said after her initial bite.
Tamales, a food from Central and South America, have a long history.
In his cookbook, “Mayan Cuisine: Recipes from the Yucatan Region,” Daniel Hoyer wrote that the tamale was cooked as far back in history as 8,000 to 5,000 B.C. by the Aztecs and Mayans.
Tamales use a starchy dough, usually made out of corn, called masa spread onto a corn or plantain leaf then steamed or boiled.
What filling a cook decides to use in the masa can range from savory to sweet.
Last year, Morgan said she made tamales with beef and a red chili, this year she plans on using pork with a green chili sauce. Some use a mole sauce, a chili and cacao mixture.
Morgan said her grandmother used to make sweet tamales, too.
“I’m not sure what she put in them, but they were sweet,” she said.
Cooks can make sweet tamales by adding sugar to the masa and making a filling with raisins or other dried fruit.
In America, immigrants from south of the border brought the tradition of making tamales with them.
Many agree that since making tamales is such a time-consuming endeavor, most cooks only make tamales during the holiday season or for special occasions.
Morgan’s daughter Breeze, has not had many tamales because her mother doesn’t make them. Instead, Breeze decided to make the Toys for Tamales event a special time. The spunky 6-year-old with gleaming dark hair like her mother, dressed for the season in reindeer antlers.
She brought her friend Makyla, a 13-year-old who goes to Rim Country Middle School, along to enjoy the tamales.
Makyla was glad to be there.
“I came ... to do good things,” she said.
Breeze and Makyla picked out Barbies, monster trucks, Hot Wheels, and Breeze’s favorite, nail polish, for the Payson Community Kids organization to give to the kids in their care.
The Toys for Tamales event brings toys to underprivileged children in the Rim Country. The Payson Community Kids organization will have a Christmas party with Santa giving out the toys.
Sponsors of this year’s event include: Gerardo’s Firewood Café, Mazatzal Casino, Aliberto’s, Miss Fitz 260 Café, El Rancho, Fargo’s, Alfonso’s, Chili’s Bar & Grill, Bashas’, Matlock Gas & Equipment, Mazatzal Optimist, the Payson Police Department, Northern Gila County Firefighters Assoc. #4135, Jacque Lee, Albert Hunt, Roadrunner Rubbish, the Payson Senior Center, Armstrong Land Services, Northern Gila County Emergency Resource Team (CERT), and the Payson Fire Department.