I just hammered this out. It needs editing for sure. I just had to get it out of my mind.
A Story, a Rant, a Query.
I grew up eating tacos when we could get them. Some history first. Mom (Eunice) was born and raised in Arizona until she was about 11, then Arkansas. Her mother (Thelma) was born in California, moved to Arizona then to Arkansas. HER mother (Lydia) walked westward with a wagon train from somewhere back east all the way to California and to my knowledge lived there all her life. This line of women and their sisters were English, Scandinavian, fairly white. The men many of them took up with were of Hispanic and Native American descent. Thelma raised her children on what is now commonly called Tex-Mex – tacos, Spanish rice, tamales, burritos etc.
When I was growing up Grandma. – Thelma – always had a pot of beans and a pot of Spanish rice cooking or cooked to go along with everything else on the table. There were tacos sometimes. If and when a relative or friend brought them from out west.
Our immediate family had tacos on the table quite often and we were overly familiar with Del Taco and Taco Bell. Tacos. All I knew was hamburger tacos with a little lettuce, cheese, onions and some taco sauce. At some point in my adulthood I was introduced to real tacos made with all manner of meats roasted in all manner of ways. I had my first fish taco in a stand at the Las Vegas flea market. Changed my life, thanks to my sister.
So I went along in adulthood making hamburger tacos and eating tacos from Taco Bell which I still love thank you very much. Just saying… do not slam my love of crappy tacos. Actually the only crappy taco I have ever had was in New Mexico. I didn’t know you should never order Mexican food in New Mexico. What they serve in New Mexico is New Mexico’an cuisine – a whole different ball game. Please don’t be offended if I have used incorrect terminology here. You can however correct me and I’ll be appreciative.
Back to Mom’s taco making skills. Our mother was not the greatest cook in the world but she was one hell of a baker. Her potato soup was really good as was her … ahhh… hmmm. We certainly didn’t starve – she always kept us well fed no matter how poor we were. Tacos. Hamburger fried up with a packet of taco seasoning from the store, shredded iceberg, diced onions, grated longhorn style cheese and bottled hot sauce I know not what brand. The corn tortillas were always yellow, tender and stood up to her dipping each one of them in a sizzling hot 1/2 inch of grease, carefully folded in half on the spatula as it was lifted from the hot oil and each laid on it’s own paper napkin to soak up the excess, all stacked up until they were all fried like that. That’s how I made tacos until oh maybe ten or fifteen years ago. I don’t make them very often anymore because I want to eat too many of them and have eaten too many of them on several occasions. More than several occasions. I have yet to meet a taco I didn’t like except for that time in New Mexico.
As we travelled back and forth across the country, mostly the midwest, corn tortillas were difficult if not impossible to find. Most grocers looked at Mom like she was crazy when she described what she was looking for. Sometimes there would be corn tortillas available in a big flat tin can!
The more we zig zagged back and forth across the midwest along with thousands of other pipeline workers during the 60’s many of whom were also asking for unusual grocery store items the easier it was to find corn and flour tortillas. This was over a time period of several years. Then we settled back into Arizona where corn tortillas were always available. And there was a Del Taco in every town.
Did I mention we lived in a very small trailer the four of us? Then the five of us. The kitchen was minuscule. The refrigerator tiny (especially on the days Mom had her “sprinkling” stashed in there – it took up a lot of space – and that is another story). The freezer compartment barely big enough for an ice cube tray and a few items for the upcoming week.
One thing Mom did always have in the freezer was every single unused corn tortilla. One or two left at the end of a meal, three of four, whatever. They got wrapped up tight and twist tied and stuck away for later. Of course these tortillas would get freezer burned, dried out and they just wouldn’t hold up to the hot oil treatment with any integrity at all. She developed a recipe new to her (I still can’t throw away a corn tortilla). Enchilada casserole. The internet is filled with enchilada casserole recipes now but not then. Mom would make a batch of her famous red gravy enchilada sauce, grate all the leftover cheese bits, there might be some meat in it but most likely not, plenty of diced onions and out she’d take all the partial packages of moldering corn tortillas from the freezer. These ragged corn tortillas would be hand torn and stirred into the simmering sauce along with the aforementioned items and then baked in the oven until hot and bubbly. This dish eventually became Mom’s Onion Enchilada Casserole. It was favored far and wide among friends and family. I still make this dish and love it. It is quite possibly the best thing Mom ever cooked, even though it was baked. It wasn’t a baked item. You know. Cake. She was a cake queen.
I have only recently in the past few years branched out beyond homemade tacos made with meat other than hamburger. Carnitas today for the second whole time in my life. Very good. Except for the crappy corn tortilla part of the taco.
Which leads me to my rant.
Where in the heck can you get a decent corn tortilla in north central Arkansas that will hold up to being folded and stuffed? Organic would be nice. I have tried several organic tortillas and they are tasty but expensive and only available in small packages.
The carnitas tacos today were mighty fine but the corn tortillas less than stellar. Yes I have a tortilla press. Yes I’ve made them from scratch a few times. No I was too tired for such nonsense today. These tortillas were frozen and a little gone over for tacos but we made do.
Here is the query part of this ramble… what is YOUR taco story? Do you eat them? Do you make them? What is your favorite place to buy tacos? What is the most tacos you have eaten in one sitting? Do you have a specific recipe you use at home? Soft or hard shell? A favorite corn tortilla? What have I forgotten to ask you about tacos?
If you try to talk to me about flour tortillas I will scold you. Flour tortillas are not the makings of tacos no matter what Taco Bell says. Stamping my foot on the ground.