How homemade tortillas are prepared in my hometown
by santiago sánchez reyes
Among Mexicans living in Alaska, a large percentage come from Zacatecas, a beautiful, colonial state located in the north central region of Mexico. I am originally from Monte Escobedo, Zacatecas and in this edition, I would like to talk about the elaboration of tortillas en comal (griddle), a gastronomic memory of my land that is part of the history of Monte Escobedo and its hard-working people.
Long before hand-cranked iron mills were marketed, wooden tortilleras were used, and public mills existed to grind nixtamal, rich tortillas were prepared in Mexican homes by hard working women. The nixtamal (hominy) was prepared at night and the next day, before the men left for work, the women would grind it.
This process took place before dawn to make sure there were fresh tortillas for breakfast and an ocote (pine wood) torch was used to provide light while the women worked. At first, the women would use a metate (hand mill) or a stone mill, because the hand cranked iron mills did not appear until about 1940.
The nixtamal was ground on the metate three times and then a “testal” (first step in forming a tortilla) was made by cupping the dough between the palms of the hands and pressing it until it was the desired thickness.
The wooden tortilleras began to be used approximately around 1949, and a cloth napkin was used so that the tortillas would not stick to the wood, because plastic bags did not exist back then. Still at the beginning of the 1940’s all the homes cooked the tortillas in baked clay comales (cooking pan), and slowly, iron comales began to appear. Tortillas were only made in the morning and sometimes before three in the afternoon.
The grooves formed on the metates, and the stone mills were deepened with a piece of flint so that they crushed the hominy better.
When a girl cooked the tortillas on the comal and they would puff up, the girl was told that she was ready to get married, as now she knew how to make tortillas. Our mothers made tortillas daily almost all their lives, what hard-working women they were! There are no tortillas more delicious than those made by hand, and cooked on a comal with firewood.
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