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Tamale Recipe Proves Hard to Keep Secret

Each year for Christmas, contributing writer Marcos Villatoro makes tamales for his friends and family.

The tamales are based on an old family recipe that he'd really like to share. But if he did, he says, his mother would disown him.

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Transcript

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY, every Christmas season, our contributing writer Marcos McPeek Villatoro thinks about a life and death compact that he has with his mother.

MARCOS VILLATORO: During the commercial, she said did you know? I would disown you for two reasons, if you get married before graduating from college and if you ever give away the tamale recipe. All right, I said. I dodged the first bullet. My wife and I married after graduation five days after. The second promise or threat has lingered to this day. Every year, we make tamales as our holiday gift to friends across town. We packed up a bunch and drive over to an office of workers or take them to our kids' teachers. It's a fun gift.

There are Salvadoran tamales, so they're different. Let's face it. They're better than any other tamale that comes out of Central America and make that Latin America. You open up this steaming little pillows of matarina(ph), which is a Latino for lenta(ph) and there's this whole little city of food on top, olives, and raisins, and prunes, and bits of hard-boiled egg, and that nest of meat made out of pork, and chicken with a sauce that I can't tell you about because I feel my ma coming around the corner.

You must give me the recipe. I've heard that line a few dozen times, nice people giving a compliment. But recently, a fellow writer approached me, plate in hand. You take two days to make this? Wow. So when can I come over and help?

I laughed. No one enters the kitchen when I make the tamales, not even my kids because at this age, they'd sell out the secret for an iPod or the latest PlayStation. I'm free every night until Christmas, says my writer friend. Really, it's not a bother. I'll stay in a hotel. I want to help you make them.

It's frightening how persistent she is, so this is why mama threatens me because it is an ancient recipe, an old Nowatan(ph) Indian taught my grandmother, who taught my mother, who taught me. My grandmother made it to the states on the money from tamale sales. Every weekend she cooked all homemade, all wrapped in their banana leaves.

So how did it goes, says my mother, every time I call about our last batch. We made a 132, I say. Putchica(ph) that's a lot, and the meat? Delicious, I say, but I lower my voice to a whisper. I imagine Homeland Security's Michael Chertoff in Rachel Ray's(ph) kitchen, both of them stirring, listening, but I haven't given in. Another years passed and I haven't let my mother down.

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY contributor Marcos McPeek Villatoro is the author of "The Romilia Chacon" crime fiction series. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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