Nov 29, 2018

A recent class offered by Washington Park neighborhood leaders on how to make tamales was such a huge success, the crowd overflowed a space at The Salvation Army outpost, 825 W. Alder St., said J. Andrew Rodriguez. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it in my three years as director of Commitment to Community. The gathering represents community engagement at its best,” Andrew added. C2C is with Blue Mountain Action Council.

“I think the neighborhood leaders are still stunned by the success of the event,” he added. Those same leaders are planning their annual Christmas party. Some dozen experts led the hands-on course on how to produce the Mexican delicacy. The experts fanned out to teaching tables in the packed space. About 35 community members of all ages participated while, unfortunately, another eight people were turned away for lack of room. 

The novices worked alongside the masters of all ages to practice and learn nuances of making masa, spreading it on a corn husk and wrapping it around the filling. Masa dough is made from corn flour and used to make tortillas and tamales. “It’ll take you a few tries,” hollered Annay Cardenas, who led the first part of the class. The 19-year-old will soon be attending Walla Walla Community College and hopes to become a travel nurse and explore other medical careers. “Walla Walla is a diverse community, and it was nice to see that people wanted to learn about the Mexican food culture,” she said. “It was amazing to see people try their best at making something new to them.”

Several methods are used to produce tamales, including abuela (grandmother) style, as coined by Deborah Peters. Her husband, Scott, was impressed with the class and appreciated “all the wonderful local experts who took time to share their expertise with us.” Various gradations of heat create good tamales. “Eyebrows raised in unison at tables when plates were brought out with spears of jalapeños to add to the filling,” Andrew said.

Because making tamales is time consuming, the expert cooks worked into the night the previous day to prepare several dozens ready to cook. During class, they prepared tamales — some spicy hot — that were cooked on the patio using a gas grill. The best part came at the culmination when attendees enjoyed cooked tamales fresh out of the steamer, Andrew said.

The class was a hit with attendees, many asking when the next class would be offered and suggesting instruction in making pozole (a traditional hominy soup or stew), enchiladas, chicken mole, tortillas and breakfast tacos. “Given the reaction, it’s a safe bet more Mexican cooking classes will be offered soon,” Andrew said. 

The success of the event was also due to the collaboration with Salvation Army Capts. Demetrio and Magda Villarreal, who graciously offered the neighborhood leaders the use of their facility’s demonstration kitchen, Andrew said

C2C works in Washington Park to build the capacity of residents to improve their neighborhood by developing their leadership skills and helping to expand their social capital. 


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