When I think of comfort foods, I can’t do it without thinking of being content with my family and friends. I think it’s no coincidence that the word “comfort” precedes “food.” The two go hand in hand.
Growing up in the Southwest amid the thriving Mexican culture has influenced me my entire life. My mother married my Hispanic stepfather when I was eight years old. He was an incredible cook and came by that talent from his mother. Naturally, I grew up eating a lot of those foods. I remember beans, rice, posole, sopapillas, menudo, tacos, etc. The list is endless and delicious.
Those memories always bring a smile to my face – even though I wasn’t blood-related to that family, I was never considered anything else. They welcomed me and my sister to the fold as though we were born there. My stepfather’s parents, Grandma Becky and Grandpa Tony, were two very loving individuals whose table was never too full to pull up one more chair. I miss them terribly.
My Grandma Becky would whip out at least eight dozen tortillas every single day in her garage. She had a stove set up in there just for that purpose. There was a large table set up next to the stove with a huge bowl on it where she and my aunties (whichever ones happened to be there at the time – there were plenty to choose from) would get in the dough up to their elbows and pinch, pat, and place the tortillas on the large black cast iron disc to cook just a few minutes on each side. To be perfectly honest, they slapped those tortillas around pretty good. Whenever I would wander out there while they were working, I always knew I would be rewarded with a fresh hot tortilla. It came with a soothing word and a pat on my head to send me on my way. I found a reason to wander out there rather frequently. The conversation was always in Spanish, which I didn’t understand, but it didn’t matter.
Why did she make eight dozen every day, you may ask? Well, there were no utensils – she kept the tortillas wrapped and ready to go in the center of the table for meals. In our defense, it was a large family…but we still ate a lot of tortillas. When it was time to eat, you grabbed a tortilla, tore off a chunk, and dipped it into the food to eat it. The tortilla was your utensil.
Every time I make tortillas now, I bite into the soft, hot dough and smile because the memories of that garage and the love always come back. To this day, I cannot tolerate store bought tortillas. Grandma Becky spoiled that for me and I am glad she did. Once you’ve had homemade and know how easy it is to do, why would you bother with anything else?
I had to try to measure the ingredients when I prepared for this post because I don’t really need to for myself – I just do it. But in order to give you a recipe, I needed (somewhat) accurate measurements. All right, I’ve talked enough. On to the recipe:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt (you can adjust this to your tastes, but never discard it all together)
1 tsp baking powder
½ stick butter (please, please don’t use margarine. Grandma Becky used lard)
¾ cup warm water (give or take according to how humid it is)
Mix the flour, salt, and baking powder until blended. Cut the butter into chunks and work it into the dough with your hands – pinch it around and break it up until it’s well blended. Add the warm water and mix it with your hands to form a dough. Knead it until it’s smooth and elastic. It shouldn’t stick to the bowl any longer, but it shouldn’t crumble, either. Adjust as necessary – if it sticks to your hands too much, add a little bit of flour. If it’s crumbly and won’t make a dough ball, add a little water.
Pinch the dough into smaller balls, about the size of a large golf ball. Once you’ve got a bowl full of golf balls, cover it with a towel and let it rest while you heat up your pan. Traditionally, cast iron is used. I have a cast iron tortilla pan, pictured here. If you don’t have one, use any cast iron skillet or non-stick skillet. Heat it over medium heat. DO NOT ADD OIL. Tortillas are cooked on a dry surface.
To roll out the tortillas (I never got the slapping thing down), flour your surface and pat the ball into a disc in your hands. Place it on the floured surface and roll it out with a rolling pin until it’s the thickness and size you want. It does not have to be perfect. In fact, mine usually aren’t and that’s all right. They taste fine!
Before you put the tortilla into your hot pan, pat or brush off any excess flour. Let the tortilla cook for about 2 minutes per side. You can use your fingers to flip it over; you don’t need a spatula. Once it’s browned on both sides, place it on a plate and cover with the same towel you used to cover the dough before. Enjoy! This recipe should make about ten tortillas or so, depending on the size.
Writer’s Prompt: You sit down to a table and are given your favorite food. What is it and why is it your favorite?
Cari Schaeffer’s debut fiction novel Faith, Hope, Love, and Chocolate has recipes in it (no shock there) and is available through most on-line retailers in print and electronic format. Her second novel will be released this summer. Hello and Goodbye: Volume One in The Yellow Ribbon Chronicles allows readers to live the life of a military spouse from the inside out.
She can also be found at http://www.carischaeffer.com .