We prayed before they left that God would bless their hunt…And I waited.  Finally, the phone rang and before I could get it to my ear I could hear her voice, “Mom! I got 3 deer!  Dad couldn’t believe it!  I got 3 deer!” I was given the gift of her excitement as she shared each detail.  Our daughter is a wonderfully unique teenager…and a combination of everything uniquely feminine, which for her includes joining her dad and 3 older brothers in a hobby they have all grown to love: hunting.


As I listened, I smiled and she celebrated her achievement…“We’ll have deer meat!

Yes, thankfully, we will – a freezer full. And that means…

TAMALES!  It is Christmas and the day is coming. I have been anticipating it.  The date has been on my calendar; a date holding enough importance to secure a spot on the calendar a year in advance.  It is the day of the tamaladas in our house – a tamale cooking party.   Tamale making has been a tradition for generations in many cultures; however in our home, it is fairly new.  This will be the 3rd year I host the tamaladas.    It began over coffee with my friend Heidi.   She had graciously shared her recipes and wisdom in preparing deer meat when she happened upon an old recipe for deer meat tamales.  The desire was birthed.  She and I gathered without an ounce of experience and we cooked, we created, we tried and failed and tried again.  We listened to Christmas music, we talked, we were quiet, we sipped, we sampled, we took breaks for soup and we returned.  Time slipped quickly and before we knew it, our kids were home from school.  Curiosity and intrigue captured our daughters’ hearts and they joined us at the table: learning, sampling, creating and sharing. It was a glorious day.

Since that day 3 years ago, the number of women who gather to make tamales has multiplied and grown.   The day is a gift of togetherness and love.  And the day produces dozens of tamales that can be given as gifts or kept in the freezer to be enjoyed later.  The tamales will satiate the palates of many during the season.  They will appear at open houses, school functions, parties and midnight movies.  They will be enjoyed as last minute meals on busy days.

Some might say tamales are a lot of work, and they can be.  But the day is not necessarily about the tamales.   Rather, the day is about relationships with the women who come to make them.  Local and distant they will come, and we will make tamales and we will share hearts in community.


Fillings for Tamales are going to be a mixture of very tender meats with spices and other ingredients.  Below is a filling recipe for deer/pork tamales.  Other ideas for Tamale fillings are:

Black beans, onions, cilantro, garlic and peppers
Beans, onions, cilantro and Monterrey Jack Cheese
Shrimp, crab, and/or lobster with cream cheese, garlic, and cilantro

Venison/Pork – Makes 6-8 dozen


1 package dried corn husks
8 lbs. venison
8 lbs. pork
1 small onion
White vinegar
Bacon grease
2 or 3 cans (8 ounces each) tomato sauce
Black peppercorns
Cumin seed
Fresh garlic
1 lb. lard
5 pounds prepared masa
Chili powder

tamale1Step 1:  Prepare the wrappers

Soak corn husks in water overnight or for 2 to 3 hours before rolling.

Pat dry, cover with a damp towel and then…

Take a coffee break and relax


**Step 2:  Cook the meat

Cook ground venison until done.

Boil pork in a large pot.  Add a small onion (sliced) and 1 to 2 tablespoons salt. Cook about 1 hour or until done.  Save broth.  Shred pork when done and add to cooked deer.

tamales2**Step 3:  Make the stuffing (picadillo)

I do not have an enormous pan so I make the picadillo in batches.  The procedure described here will fill a 12” skillet.  Repeat as necessary until meat is used.

Heat a few spoonfuls of bacon grease in a skillet.  Add a little flour, brown and stir.  Add one 8 ounce can tomato sauce; cook and stir over low heat until you have a thick paste.

Grind spices in a coffee grinder or use ground spices:

2 tspns. black peppercorns
2 tspns. cumin seed
2 cloves garlic (I use minced garlic in  a jar to equal 2 cloves)
2 dried cloves

Add a little water, stir and put the spices over the sauce in the skillet.  Add 1 ½ tspns. salt and stir vigorously.  Add a little broth (or water).  Begin adding meat, stirring after each addition to distribute the sauce throughout.  Add more liquid as needed – it should be fairly dry.  When you have as much picadillo as you can stir, remove from heat and start a new batch.

**Note:  Steps 2 & 3 can be done a day or two ahead.

tamales3Step 4:  Mix the Masa

Heat lard in a saucepan until soft, almost melted.  Put masa in a large mixing bowl.   Add heated lard and 2 tablespoons each salt and chili powder.  Mix dough until ingredients are thoroughly blended, and then…

Take a break and have a pumpkin spice latte,
hot apple cider or a Virgin Bloody Mary (or not)…
return to assemble, laugh, listen and share

tamale spreadingStep 5:  Spread, Stuff and Roll 

 To assemble a tamale spread a thin layer of masa on the smooth side of a soaked husk.  Start at the top right edge and go about two thirds of the way across and down.  Use a spoon, butter knife, oiled fingers or whatever works for you (chances are none will work on the first attempt and there will be laughter, but keep trying!)  Make the masa layer just wide enough to wrap once around the filling.

Put a line of picadillo, about 1-2 rounded teaspoons, along one edge of the masa layer.  Roll the husk, wrapping the dough around the filling and fold up the tail.  Start a stack to be steamed.

tamale5Step 6:  Steam the Tamales

The final step is to steam the tamales.  In a large pot fitted with a steamer basket, bring 2 inches of water to a boil.  Stand the tamales upright in the pot with the open end towards the top.  Cover with a damp kitchen towel and steam until the filling becomes firm and the tamales are heated through, 50-60 minutes…

Time for another break…yes!
Soup, conversation, rest and sharing…
A day filled with tamales and a day filled with love

Ellen Oelsen lives in the Texas Hill Country with her husband of 24 years. She is a mother of 4 children and loves their 2 dogs and 1 cat. Her hobbies include cooking, nature, reading, plays, and two stepping. She delights in offering hospitality of the heart and creating spaces of care, rest, play and reflection to inspire hope. She is beginning to expose the writer within her.