Thanksgiving has always been my favorite Holiday. It is a family day. It is a time where families come together to celebrate their love for one another.
When I was a little girl, we had amazing celebrations. We were very poor, but being poor didn't matter. My mother and her "comadres" planned their Thanksgiving feasts weeks in advance. On Holidays, specialities were on the menu. This was our chance to have Tamales, Barbacoa and Menudo. These were delicacies for us in Michigan. They were not every day menu items. Sure we ate tortillas, rice and beans on a frequent basis, but the delicacies were left for special times. It wasn't that they were expensive, it was just that they were either time consuming to make or the meats in the menu items were difficult to come by in Michigan. Of course, nowadays, you can buy these delicacies at your local Taco Cabana or Mexican Restaurant or buy the ingredients at your local Kroger or Wal-Mart.
Tamales were time consuming to make. My mother rarely made them alone for our family. Usually she brought in her comadres from the neighborhood. Each would bring an ingredient. One group would bring the corn husks. Another would bring the corn masa harina. My mother usually made huge pots of meat mixture, usually made from pork. The women gathered around the table. Each had a stack of cleaned/soaked corn husks. Bowls of masa were made and pots of the prepared meat mixture were placed on the table. An assembly line formed around the table. First the corn husks were pasted with masa in a very correct method. You could not layer it too thickly for fear of making your tamales too doughy. Next, the meat was layered. This was also very precise. You could have meaty tamales, but not too meaty for fear you'd run out of meat. Next, each tamale was carefully wrapped in a tight wrap. Finally, the tamales were place round and round in a huge stock pot or canner, layer after layer and layer until the pan was filled. When many ladies came, we had four or five huge pots filled to the brim. After they were cooked, each lady took home 5 or 6 dozen for their families holiday meal. Delicious.
I also loved Barbacoa. We rarely had it. The old traditional recipe for barbacoa was to make it from the meat of a cow's head. Back then, in Michigan, you could never buy a cow's head at a grocery store. My father did have a few farmer friends and I remember a few times being shocked at the site of a frozen cow's head in our freezer. When preparing barbacoa, my mother slow cooked the head in the oven until the meat just fell off the bone. She used very little spices, mostly tender loving care. There was a simplicity to it. The taste was unbelievable, moist and tender. My father liked to save the cow tongue for sandwiches later. As far as the cow brains, my father said they were a delicacy and if you ate them, they made you smarter.
Menudo was another great treat. Many people call menudo a "hangover cure." It certainly has a unique taste. It's made with tripe (and sometimes pig's feet), white hominy, onions and spices -- especially chili powder. The tripe had to be carefully cleaned and soaked. This was a long, laborious process. After the cleaning and cutting of the tripe, then my mother combined all the ingredients in a pot and let it cook and simmer for hours before the taste was just right. You could only eat corn tortillas with menudo and my mother always chopped up fresh onions and lemon with it.
On Thanksgiving days, after church, our huge family gathered around the table, said a prayer, each announced what we were thankful for, and ate our delicacies. Turkey and corn dressing were always included in the menu, ending with one of my mother's amazing deserts. We only ate one meal on Thanksgiving Day, but often, it was the best meal of the year. And we, as a family, were all very Thankful!