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MCG, a Chicana feminist, for sure, teaches community college English

Monday, September 10, 2012

Flour Tortillas with Butter

          I felt like a real Mexican whenever mom made flour tortillas by hand -- something she only did in phases. She made them to impress people, or whenever she needed to demonstrate her Mexicanisma. Mom was so many things all at once --single-mother, wild hippie chick, welfare broad -- and living in a small town away from her East LA neighborhood, sometimes people didn’t notice the obvious. 
         The first tortilla making phase started when I was in second grade. Mom had been working as a teacher’s aide in mine and my brother’s classes, and she decided to teach my class to make flour tortillas -- a cooking project.
         She looked so pretty and cheerful sitting at a low table surrounded by my classmates; she even wore an apron, something she didn’t usually do  at home. In groups of three or four, she showed the class how to pinch off a fist full of dough and roll it into a ball between two hands. This was the easy part, like playing with play dough. It was hard to wait my turn at the math station table.
         After each of the four kids around the cooking station table finished rolling their dough into smooth round balls, mom showed them each how to put flour on the area of the table in front of them, and she showed them how to flatten the dough with the ball of the hand, keeping it as round as possible and how to roll it out -- a couple of turns with the rolling pin on each side, flip the dough over and repeat, a couple of turns with the rolling pin, and flip. Charlie already had flour in his hair, and Amy was asking if she got to eat her own tortilla -- the one that she rolled out herself.
         The kids at the art table were coloring pattern worksheets of designs my mom had drawn for us  -- a couple of the kids were drawing and watching the cooking station, looking up from time to time, or stopping drawing all together when they heard the thump, thump sound of mom’s rolling pin coming down on the surface in front of her and bumping over the dough
         As each child at the cooking table rolled his or her tortilla, making them as big as they could, mom helped repair holes that had been rubbed through the dough by too much force on the rolling pin. Pushing back a curl of hair that kept falling into her eyes with her wrist instead of a floury hand, she scraped dough stuck to the table or rolling pins, adding more flour, or simply scraping the remnants into the trash, and helping that student start all over again. She got up and stood behind Maia, gently guiding the rolling pin, putting her hands over Maia's and pushing and pulling the pin, stopping only to flip the dough and add more flour.
         Once each of the kids were finished turning their dough into a roundish shaped tortilla, sometimes oblong, some with a point jutting out to the side, mom began putting each of their tortillas, one-by-one on an electric skillet on the classroom counter behind her. I could hear her explaining how the skillet didn’t need oil, these were cooked differently than Indian fry bread, that it just needed to be hot -- too hot for them to touch. She told them that they’d know when they’re tortillas were ready to be turned for cooking on the other side when a few small bubbles began forming on the dough as it cooked. All the children watched and Amy winced when Mom picked up the hot tortilla with her bare hands and flipped it over so it could cook on the other side. My mouth watered thinking of the butter that I knew Mom had brought along for us to spread over the top where it would melt into the crevices that were formed by the heat bubbles.
         When it was my turn at the cooking table, Mom let me sit by her side instead of in front of her on the other side of the table. It was funny to see her sitting in a kid chair, her knees sticking out to the sides, almost bumping the table. I had watched her make flour tortillas at home a couple of times, so I already knew that I had to flour the surface in front of me and put a little flour on the rolling pin too. I demonstrated rolling and flipping and rolling and flipping right along with her, making sure not to bump my rolling pin into hers, and pulling back her sleeves when she asked me to because they were sliding down and her hands were white and floury.
         Even though I had finished rolling my tortilla as round and as big as I could before everyone else, I had to wait my turn to have Mom cook it on the electric skillet. At home she cooked tortillas on the griddle of our stove or in a cast iron skillet. I watched as bubbles formed on the tortillas and knew right when they needed to be flipped -- Mom would lift the lightly bubbled and browned tortilla, picking it up carefully with her bare fingers and flip it over to cook on the other side. I watched as my classmates spread butter over their tortillas the way we did it at home, by rubbing the half-opened side of a stick of butter around the warm round surface, the butter melting in its tracks along the way. Mom showed each of them how to roll the buttered tortilla into an easy-to-hold taquito shape for eating. When it was my turn to rub my warm tortilla with butter, the others were already licking their lips and asking for more. Mom smiled, flouring the surface on the table in front of her, the curls around her face bouncing as she worked. I bit into my own flour tortilla the warm, doughy, buttery flavor filling my mouth, and I closed my mouth and chewed.


  1. Favorite treat growing up was my mom's flour tortillas with butter!

  2. Yes! My grandmother used to make flour tortillas for us sometimes and we ate them just like this, or with eggs and chorizo if we were over for Sunday lunch or something. Yummmmmm. One of the snacks my Dad always went for was this with a little bit of jam too, and that still tastes like home to me.