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A tortilla chronicle

February 19, 2012

Everyone has their preference for qualities that make up the ideal flour tortilla. For those who grew up in Mexican  or Mexican-American households,   the tortilla recipe  passed on in their family from  generation to generation makes for a tortilla that evokes  childhood memories of family, kitchen,  eating, sharing, and maybe arguing a case as to who was going to get to eat the last tortilla.   Then we turn to adults and our familiar tortilla which we took for granted  is usually not so easily available anymore.  We’ve all had our share of commercially made flour tortillas and will eat plenty more in our lifetime.  They vary  in  texture and taste, with some being more acceptable to our palate than others. They may get the job done, but we will all agree that they are  a poor substitute for what we know as a homemade tortilla.  You can’t avoid them.  The vast majority of Mexican restaurants  serve  factory made tortillas.  Even if you are in a household that makes them,  you are going to opt to buying factory made ones when you are in a crunch to feed or entertain guests.  Those tortillas get regulated to the task of simply  being the edible vessel that holds the  homemade filling.  A well done homemade tortilla  easily  becomes part of the conversation and can outshine what is inside that taco.  It’s amazing what flour, shortening, salt , and water properly mixed together can acheive.

So I’m here on a journey of sorts to find that elusive magical formula of my ideal tortilla.  It’s the flour tortilla one of my grandmothers made and passed on to my mom, who to this day continues the tradition.  You might be thinking, ” Why don’t you just journey over to your mom’s and  learn from the source?”  Well I could do that and I eventually will .  It would take me practice to develop the right touch and feel. Maybe I would never be able to perfectly get it.  After all, we all have a slightly nuanced  way in which we manipulate dough no matter how hard we try to duplicate another’s method.  I can’t compete with the technique that comes with all those years of experience.   I’ve made many a tortilla following recipes in cookbooks and have experimented with variations .   What happens if I knead the dough 1 minute instead of 3 or 4 .  Let’s gradually  vary the flour to shortening ratio.  What will be the result if I add a 1/2 teaspoon more baking powder  .   Even for just 4 or 5 ingrediants, going through all the permutations is no weekend project.  The term “empirical data” comes to mind when  describing the  experimentations.  But by taking on this project, I’m getting  to know flour tortillas inside and out.

Most of my next  posts  will be about  my road to find that elusive magical formula.  Because it’s a very particular quality I’m looking for, I may never get it. But at least I will be making some very edible  tortillas along the way.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2014 9:23 pm

    I absolutely agree with you – so many of our tastes were shaped when eating our mother’s and grandmothers’ food, and to recreate that is an ongoing process.
    I used to go to my granny’s to make a special sweet yeast dumpling, and I have only picked up the courage to try it out myself this year, almost 20 years after her death.
    They were delicious. What was missing was my granny, though, in her little dark kitchen with the tin of muscovado sugar, of which we were sometimes allowed a spoonful, and my grandad, muttering to himself in the living room.

    • June 12, 2014 2:01 am

      Hi Ginger, Our grandmother also had a way of focusing our large extended family together. Without her it would have been more difficult to keep in touch and see all our aunts, uncles, and cousins together! Of course everyone appreciated her love and generosity.
      Those special sweet yeast dumplings sound good! It’s great to keep the family traditions going.
      After I read your comment, I decided to make flour tortillas using the recipe I have on the post. They came out good. This time I didn’t measure the water but added it until it seemed right. She never measured the ingredients. She also always seemed to have some ready for anyone who could not resist.
      Thank you for visiting and sharing your thoughts!

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