Tamale Candles and Passing My First $100 Milestone in Candle Sales

Tamales originated in Mesoamerica as far back as 8000 B.C. among a people who lived in the land that is now called Mexico. These people grew corn, beans, squash, and sweet potatoes. They also made trade goods that included obsidian tools, jade carvings, pottery, and polished mirrors made from ilmenite and magnetite. Since they were envied for their ability to make rubber sandals and balls, they were known as the Olmecs or “rubber people.” According to archeologists, their civilization went into decline sometime between 1200 and 900 B.C. Their land was subsequently occupied by the Aztecs.

teocintle, the ancestor of today’s corn

The word “tamale” is derived from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word “tamal” which means “wrapped meat.” These tamales were originally made using ground teocintle, an ancestor of today’s corn which like today’s masa was spread over a corn husk prior to adding some type of meat. The corn husk was then rolled up. After the tamales were placed in a stone lined cook fire, they were covered with palm fronds and were buried under a thin layer of soil. The heat that was radiated by the stones helped cook the tamales. The palm fronds kept most of the soil off the tamales. The dirt helped to trap the heat so that the tamales could slowly cook.

Given how easy this food was to carry and to reheat, tamales became popular with warriors and hunters who would take them on long trips. When the Spanish first visited Mexico in 1519, their records show that among the many foods that were served to them by the Aztecs were tamales.

Tamales with Spanish rice, refried beans, and corn are one of my favorite comfort foods. I first ate this food at a street vendor’s stall in San Salvador, El Salvador in 1974. My father who was a tropical disease specialist with the U.S. Public Health Service had been sent to El Salvador on a TDY (tour of duty) to work with the U.S. State Department as part of a foreign aid program to this Central American country.

While walking home from La Escuela Americana (the American School), I saw a vendor selling rice, refried beans, and tamales. Since this looked a lot better than the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that my mother insisted I should have for lunch (and rarely ate because it was monotonous having to eat this day after day), I stopped to order a plate using my very poor broken Spanish.

"¿Cuánto cuesta?" I asked. (How much does this cost?)

The vendor rattled something off. 

"Hablas mas despacio por favor." (Please speak more slowly).

The vendor grinned and spoke slowly enough for me to understand him. If memory serves, the cost of a meal with a tamale, Spanish rice, and beans was five colons which at the time was about .57 cents in U.S. currency. 
Salvadorian tamale

Unlike Mexican tamales which are wrapped in corn husks, the Salvadorians wrapped theirs in banana leaves. I was happily digging into my meal of tamales with Spanish rice and beans when I heard my mother screaming at me.

“DAVID WILLIAM CHIN!”

It is never a good thing when one’s mother uses your full name. My heart sank as I turned to see my mother sitting in the back of her Chrysler Imperial. Ramon, her chauffeur was carefully not looking at me. The campesinos (farmers) who had been dining at an adjacent table looked at me and grinned.

Oye cipote, escucha a tu madre,” (Hey kid, listen to your mother) called one of the men. He waved his hat at me as I slowly climbed to my feet.

“DUMP THAT TRASH!” ordered my mother when I picked up my meal.

I reluctantly threw away my meal to the amusement of the watching men.

Mom didn’t wait for me to climb into car before laying into me. She had some choice words to say about dining among the poor, dining at a food stall that served the poor , and eating something that may have been made with questionable ingredients by a person who may not have had good personal hygiene. “Just WAIT until your father gets home,” she said with an ominous glower.

As things turned out, my father who has dined at food stalls throughout Africa, Asia, and Central America while working in his capacity as a tropical disease specialist wasn’t particularly concerned.

“What kind of tamales did you have?” he asked.

I told him that I had ordered tamales pisques which feature seasoned corn masa that are mixed with refried kidney beans.

“Did you order this with tomato sauce or curtido?”

“What’s curtido?”

“It’s a cabbage relish that tastes a bit like sauerkraut.”

My mother glowered as our conversation turned into a discussion of Salvadorian cuisine. To keep her happy, I had to promise never to dine at that stall (or any other) ever again.

Thinking about tamales encouraged me to use Door Dash to order a meal from a local Mexican restaurant. In addition to chicken enchiladas with beans and rice, I ordered beef tamales. I saved the corn husk after eating one of them and used it to wrap some modelling clay. This model was then used to make a new silicone mold. The production test model pictured below was the end result

my tamale candle

My tamale candle smells of beef, corn, cumin, and garlic.

In the meanwhile I have now passed a $100 profit milestone having sold some $150 in candles through Shop Nevada. My first order went out two weeks ago. Another order went out yesterday. Two more will go out tomorrow.

Having freed up some space on one of my baking racks, I have started the production of additional tamale candles. Since the Philadelphia style cinnamon rolls seem popular, I may have to make a few extra of these candles over the weekend to replenish my stock.

This is my Philadelphia style cinnamon roll. In real life, the cinnamon rolls are baked on a layer of nuts with a sticky glaze. When served, these rolls are presented bottom side up.

I still plan to draw down my Shop Nevada inventory to create an inventory at a new Etsy store that I will open over the Christmas break.

P.S. My worst fears regarding an angry postal worker were realized today. Before shipping the customer orders, I checked my new PO box and found that the lock hadn’t been changed. I got this PO box over one month ago on November 13th. The postal clerk who shipped my packages promised to look into this. Although I did not tell her about my experience with her colleague, she did tell me that the lock should have been changed within a couple of weeks.

tamale candle

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