25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
Making Hot Corn Tortillas
The other day our family was too lazy to go downtown to purchase some corn tortillas for the "taquitos", so we ended up purchasing a bag of "Minza" or powdered corn mill. We simply added some water and proceeded to make our tortillas, but in the process we talked about how tortillas were made twenty five years ago.
First of all, corn tortillas was the main food for all families. That went well with any fish dish prepared by mother and with any chicken dish for special occasions as were the chirmole, relleno and escabeche. To begin the process of making corn tortillas, we first boiled a quart or two of corn. Boiling took about one hour to get the corn really tender.
The corn was left soaked overnight and the next morning the corn was rinsed thoroughly.
You then proceeded to grind the corn. For this we used a hand corn grinder called a "Molino". Of course, this word means a windmill, but this one was a simple gadget with a little arm that had to be rotated. If the corn dough was not fine, then a second grinding was required.
After you got your dough, you added a certain amount of water and a tiny pinch of salt. You had to know how much water to add so that the dough would spread nicely. To spread the dough, you placed a small portion of it on a piece of cellophane and using the hands expertly, you smashed it into a flat round tortilla about five inches in diameter. This tortilla was placed unto a hot plate called a "comal" and cooked on both sides, perhaps a minute on each side. The hot tortilla was placed unto a container called a "leck" (Mayan word), where they remained hot and tender for several hours. Moms usually prepared the corn tortillas about eleven o'clock so that they would be fresh at midday when the children and the husband arrived home for lunch.
Sometimes there was fish or some other meat to accompany the tortillas. No doubt there were "frijoles" or beans, which was the most common food source twenty five years ago. When there was no side dish, mom simply spread some butter and salt and there you had your simple taco. When there was lard or fat obtained after making the famous chicharones, this lard was spread unto the tortilla for a delicious taco.
Now there were some moms that were too busy and did not have time to prepare the tortillas. For this they cooked their corn and took it to some person that did the rest of the work, which was grinding and baking. I remember one Mrs. Chica who used to prepare the tortillas for many families for a small fee of 25 cents. At midday the children would go to dona Chica for their "leck" filled up with delicious hot corn tortillas. Today you simply go to the factory and a small fee you get a pound of tortillas. Twenty five years ago it was a very laborious process, but it was worth the effort.