SO YOU WANT to LIVE in COSTA RICA the Adventures, Trials and Tribulations of Settling in Paradise by Gary Davis –

4 Feb

chapter 25 continued

First let me tell you about two of the non-food items I had to purchase for this adventure, a pot and a wooden spoon.  Now don’t get me wrong.  Even though I’m not much of a cook I do have a couple five quart pots and a good assortment of very useable wooden cooking utensils.  You’ve seen tamales.  They’re not very big so of course when she surveyed my assortment of cooking equipment and said she needed bigger I was in slight disbelief.  

She wasn’t thrilled with the biggest pot we were able to find in the stores in Santa Cruz but since it was the biggest she said she could make do.  I have no idea how many gallons it holds but it measures 13 inches deep by 16 inches in diameter. 

Then she pointed at a wooden spoon and I thought was making a joke.  But she gave me this serious look and said it too would do.  It’s over 2 feet long!

Ok, so back to the cuadrado leaves.  The first step is to carefully fold them so as not to tear or break them, fill the pot with them, add water to the top and boil the hell out them.  Then take them out of the pot and very gingerly dry each one off with towels while at the same time making sure they are very free of debris.  At 11pm she said she was tired and would finish drying leaves in the morning and we went to bed.

At 5am she was up and at it again (I stayed in bed till about 7 since the night before she had wisely let me know in no uncertain terms that I could be of no help, other than lifting the full pot).  By the time I got to the kitchen to watch she was just in the process of all the ancillary vegetable and condiment preparation. 

Then came cutting the two different cuts of pork “just so”.  Then came the cooking, brazing and what only other Latinas might understand about tamale preparation. 

By about 10am everything was cooked and ready for the next step… cook the corn meal.  Here’s where that big wooden spoon came in.  Once again that huge pot is on the stove with water and, this time, corn meal.  Now, she is about 5’3” tall.  I have photos of her standing on my step ladder with that big wooden spoon stirring the pot of corn meal. 

Then after it had cooked enough she needed me to take it off the stove and put it on the floor so she could stir in a bunch of condiments (prepared earlier in interesting and exotic ways).  I have photos of that too.

Finally, everything is cooked.  Now it’s time to wrap it all up in the cuadrado leaves.  It was like watching an artist work!  First the leaves are laid out and arranged “just so” for each individual tamal.  (No, that’s not a typo.  One is a tamal, more than one are tamales.)  Then a little of the corn meal is placed on the leaves as a base for all of the other pre-cooked items as follows. 

A little of the rice goes on top of the corn meal, then a little pork, then a slice of potato on one side of the pork, then a slice of carrot on the other side of the pork, then a slice of chile dulce diagonally across, then a green olive. 

Then with great care the leaves are wrapped, folded and bundled over and around it all and now you have this neat little packet that is then gently laid aside.  I have photos of that too. 

I counted 84 packets.  I have photos of that too.

Now it’s time to tie all the packets up with string.  I finally get to help.  She let me cut the string.  I don’t have a photo of that.

The packets are bundled two packets together and then tied with string.  I have photos of that too and now I think “we’re” done.  It’s about 1pm, I’m hungry, and it all looks great… let’s eat!

No.  Now all the packets have to go back in the pot with water to cook!  I ask her “why does it all have to cook again?”  She said because if they didn’t cook some more the special liquid pork fat that she stirred into the corn meal after it was done cooking would keep me on the toilet for days!  Ok, I lift the full pot up onto the stove.  She gives me this giggle and say’s no… we have to take it outside and cook it over a wood fire.  I can’t believe it. 

I have a beautiful Jenn-air gas range with one special burner that produces a huge flame for rapid boiling and other high heat needs.  She knows this, she’s used it before, and it’s not good enough.

So we each grabbed a handle and lugged it out to a shady place under the coconut palms.  Unbeknownst to me, Mario knew and had brought some concrete blocks to hold the pot above the flames.  Using all of my Alaskan woodsman skills I had a roaring fire going in minutes (finally I felt useful for something).

4pm:  It’s all ready!  We can eat! 

And are they ever delicious!  I’ve had restaurant prepared tamales.  I’ve had home made tamales in California.  I’ve had tamales prepared with less care and time investment.  I’ve never had a tamale as delicious as these (am I prejudiced?)  And after doing the math, starting at 6pm the night before – she spentseventeen hours preparing 82 packets, two packets per meal per person = 42 meals…

I told her I would chew very slowly.


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