Flour Tortillas From the Lady of the Hacienda

The flour tortilla has become the latest food-victim of political correctness, and it is up to you to rescue it from its dismal flavorless fate. Using shortening instead of pork drippings (lard) or bacon grease? Por favor, no. I ask you, what is so bad about lard or bacon grease? Contrary to popular belief, they are not so terrible. Yes, they are high in saturated fats, but unlike most shortenings, they do not contain one iota of trans-fatty acids—you know, those nasty little chemicals that produce free radicals, which in turn cause cancer and make us old and wrinkled before our time. Okay, so some shortenings have no trans-fatty acids, but that doesn't remove the fact that they taste like nada. It's all about the flavor, and Doña Catalina would not have been caught dead putting partially hydrogenated oil or phosphate whatchamacallit in her flour tortillas.
A rather imposing woman who was native of Sonora, and the mother of a dozen children, eight of them boys, Doña Cata made beautiful, perfectly round flour tortillas. Her tortillas always had tiny bits of bacon or carnitas, which made them beyond delicious. I don't think that most of her tortillas ever made it from the comal (griddle) to the table before one of her boys would snatch one, spread butter on it, and eat it in three bites. She once offered to teach me how to make them, but I never took her up on the offer—muchacha mensa—foolish, foolish girl. Because Doña Cata was not just good at making tortillas. Everything she made was sabroso—utterly delicious. Would an artist turn down spending an afternoon painting with Picasso? Not likely. But that is exactly what I did so to speak—much to my regret.
If there was something that made her extremely happy, it was having all of her children, plus over 25 grandchildren running all over the house. There she held court, like the Lady of The Hacienda, instructing us young women on how to prepare tamales. Attendance was compulsory because the proper feeding of men and children was serious business. She knew better than anybody that good food and good times were at the heart of her family.
As protective as a she-bear (which she often likened herself to) watching over her cubs, she watched over the goings on of her large family, exhorting, cajoling, and sometimes threatening, when she perceived that anyone of her beloved children or grandchildren had embarked on the wrong path—it didn't matter whether they were grown ups or not. What did she care about the so-called right to self-determination when the wellbeing of those she loved was a stake? Not one jalapeño pepper. Without a blinking an eye, she told David, her younger sons' childhood friend, that he had better stay away from her sons, because he was mala compañia—bad company. Her sons were furious, but she stood her ground. She was especially vigilant when any one of her children brought a girlfriend or a boyfriend to the house.
On a hot summer's day, one of them brought a girl to a family gathering. She was a girl with big muscles and a big laugh, who put her foot on a nearby bench while she practically opened a beer bottle cap with her teeth and drank with the men.
Doña Cata, ever the lady, said nothing, but sat there watching her with her green eyes in the same manner as a cat eyes an unsuspecting gopher.
After an hour or so her son took the girl home and returned to the house. The first thing he asked was, "So, what did you think of her, Ma?"
"No me la vuelvas a traer a la casa. No la quiero ver—don't ever bring her back here. I never want to see her," was all she said.
"Why not?"
"Because her bra strap is dirty."
And just like that, the girl was never seen again, going off into the Elephant's Graveyard of Where Ex-Girlfriends Go.
It suddenly occurred to me, that I had somehow gained entrance to a very exclusive club. I married one of her sons, and if I had not met with her approval, well, I would not here telling you her story today.

She expected, yes, demanded great things from her children. Good grades and a fine education were not enough for her. ("If you are an uneducated tarugo—blockhead, that is one thing. But if you are an educated tarugo, then there's no hope for you," she once remarked.) She expected that they reflect all of the qualities she stood by all of her life, things like decency, honor, faith in God, hard work, sharing what you had with others, hospitality, loyalty and love—for one's friends and family, one's children, for one's companion in life, for one's self. Courage in the face of disapproval. Respeto—respect. She and her husband Don Rafael lived a life as authentic as her flour tortillas. They were simple people—without the nasty artificial ingredients. Not everyone loved her—bad people hated her, but that was fine with her.
One evening, her granddaughter and her granddaughter's husband spent time with her. Together they listened to and sang the songs of her youth, the songs of Javier Solis and Miguel Aceves Mejilla. Then she went to sleep and never woke up.
Her children bought a marble plaque for her gravesite. It bears the epitaph, "Una Gran Mujer"—A Woman of Greatness. Which she was.

Flour Tortillas From the Lady of the Hacienda
The first thing that your must do is to save and refrigerate all of your bacon and/or pork drippings. Make sure that they are solid, not watery. Next, use Harina la Piña Brand flour, though a soft wheat white enriched all-purpose flour that is very finely milled is acceptable. Do not use a traditional rolling pin with handles. Use one without handles. For some reason, it works better. Also, use the palm of your hands to make rather flat balls.
How do you make your tortillas?
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of solidified pork drippings, or bacon grease or pork lard
2 cups of boiling water
In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except the water. Use your fingers to mix in the lard. Adding water a little at a time, mix the flour with a large spoon. Sprinkle some flour on a cutting board or on a hard flat surface. Transfer dough to the board and knead until the dough is no longer sticky. Add more flour if necessary. Now make the balls (the larger the balls, the larger the tortillas). Put all the balls backing into the mixing bowl, and let them sit for about 10 minutes or so.
Sprinkle some flour on the cutting board. Flatten the balls with the palm of your hand. Using the rolling pin, roll out from the center and keep rotating until they are as fat or as thin as you want them to be.
Transfer the tortillas to a medium-hot griddle and cook them until bubbles form, less than a minute. Flip over to cook the other side. Keep tortillas warm under a towel or a tortilla warmer until they are ready to eat. Make sure you sneak one and put some butter on it and eat it in three bites.


Anonymous said...

wow, you have given me an image of heaven, flour tortillas with little pieces of bacon or carnitas. man, i have never had them like this. my mom used to use lard all the time, but now she uses a mix of olive oil and canola. they are still good.

great cite, i just bookmarked and plan to add it to my links.

tin from florycanto.net

crystalgee said...

tortilla's with bits of bacon or carnitas?! sounds super tasty!
my tia always uses a big tub of lard when she's makes tamales; i always thought it looked kind of gross, but i never really thought of how they would taste if she had done otherwise. good point.
and, i love this line: "They were simple people—without the nasty artificial ingredients." =] great post.

Dona Junta said...

WOW sounds yummy! I love homemade tortillas especially when you go to Mexico they just don't compare to the pack of tortillas we have at home..yum I want to try this

virginia said...

she looks like my mother-in-law, and i've sent links to many, including my son. found you via a comment on my blog...

i was just complaining about the horrid store-bought tortillas!

if you have time, and want thousands of stories, you should speak to my husband's aunt concha. she had a restaurant for many years.

La Traductora said...

Your Tia Concha sounds like a great person--nothing beats a great storyteller who is also a great cook! Gracias for visiting my blog!

Pearmama said...

I love the way you described your mother-in-love. That is what I aspire to be, with my children and in my home. Tortillas are a beautiful thing!

TheFancyChola said...

OOhh your blog is beautiful! And the food looks boombastic! Thanks for the advice, I actually have some squeeze bottle Abuelitas syrup de chocolate..a delicious short cut! Visit me again soon!

La Traductora said...

Hi Fancy Chola!
Thanks for visiting! Just remember to put a little chili powder in that cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate!
Fancy Chola? Well, I guess there IS a little bit of Chola in all of us chicas!

D. said...

But you forgot one of the important parts of tortillas. NO ONE can eat the first tortilla out of the ball of masa. !porque se hacen flojos! Mom has solved this dilemma by making it small and feeding it to Xocoatl, the Chihuahua :)

Plus, I think we have that same mantel.

La Traductora said...

Hola D.
Thanks for your comment. We have the same mantel? How long has it been in your familia?

gilda said...

I love homemade flour tortillas and my favorite way to eat them is lather them with butter right off the pan! Thank you for sharing your recipe. I can't wait to try it out!

Clementina said...

Hola, Gilda!
I absolutely love seseme (sic?) flatebreads. And your blog--so informative. I'm adding it to my favorties!
Thank you for visiting!

Anonymous said...

Dr.Wynn thanks the author for a wonderful walk back into my multigenerational cocina ... I could actually smell the lovely waft of freshly made tortillas.

Clementina said...

No hay de que, you are welcome, Dr. Wynn.
Come visit again!

Anonymous said...

Boiling Water?? I've never heard of this method. But I'm willing to try because I just can't make flour tortillas like Mom's. She whips them up in no time. Please ezplain the method a bit more. I have tried the chicharron bits but only in corn tortillas. Will try this also. Thanks. cptexas

Clementina said...

Hola, Anonymous
Why do I use boiling water? Because that is the way my mother and mother-in-law used to make them, and how some of my friends prepare their flour tortillas. I asked a relative why she used boiling water and she said that she felt that it somehow made the dough more pliable.
Now, if you want to make flour tortillas like your mom, then follow her directions EXACTLY--aren't our mother's tortillas always the best? If she doesn't use a recipe like most Mexican moms, I would suggest that you have measuring spoons, etc. ready in order to take accurate measurements. Use only the same kind of flour that she uses. She might scoff, but that is the only way to get tortillas just the way you like them--and to pass on to your kids.
A lot of people may use all purpose flour. Some use self-rising flour, but I think the best flour is La Pina.
And, oh yes: practice makes perfect.
Enjoy your tortillas! ;-)

Sher said...

OMG! I thought you were talking about my mom (she passed away 3 yrs ago)..She was exactly the same kind of woman! and made the BEST tortillas ever!! She never used a recipe so it was difficult to pin down exactly the way she made them..however they were always perfect and delicious!
I love your blog site!!

Rosalie G. said...

Hello! I accidentally came across your blog while on Pinterest. I absolutely love it...your stories are wonderful and very well written. When I was a little girl I used to help my mom make tortillas twice a day. I too never wrote down the recipe and I'm glad to come across yours. My son is always asking me to make homemade tortillas so I just might surprise him! Thank you for bringing back some wonderful memories of my mom and grandma.

Diana Renteia said...

I followed instructions. I don't know where I went wrong. My tortillas were soft but break easily. I'm trying to make some for hubby's burritos for his lunch. Any idea what I'm doing wrong? Mi suegra says I put too much manteca in them :(

Clementina said...

It could be that, or perhaps the tortillas can be rolled out just a little thicker so they can be strong enough to hold the burrito filling. On the other hand, use your suegra's recipe (she will be flattered!) Have a great day!