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COOKING WITH LOVE TAMALE TRADITION KNITS FAMILY, NEIGHBORS.

Byline: Dominic Berbeo Staff Writer

PACOIMA - At 85, Socorro Romero has eight children, 35 grandchildren, 55 great-grandchildren, and six great-great-grandchildren.

But that's not nearly enough kids for the family matrona.

This year, she invited neighborhood children to her house for a posada at her Pacoima home to share homemade tamales and toys.

``There's a lot of needy people on the block,'' said Romero, who is known around the neighborhood as ``la senora de la flor'' because of the flower she often wears in her hair. ``This is the least I can do.''

She will have help, too. Lots of help.

Every year, nearly two dozen women and girls from four generations of Romero's family get together to cook up stories, gossip and hundreds of tamales for themselves and to give as gifts.

``It's the ultimate in female bonding,'' says daughter Sofia Romero, who says she has passed down the art of tamale-making from her mother to her own children. ``We've been doing this as long as I can remember.''

While the kinds of tamales vary widely throughout Latin America, cooking large quantities to give as gifts at Christmas is a distinctly Mexican and Central American tradition, a symbol of family nexus.

``I learned the tradition from my family in Mexico City,'' Socorro Romero said. ``I've been making them in quantities with my family here for at least the past 30 years.''

The tradition has spilled over to the commercial sphere, with many restaurants across the Valley offering bulk tamales by special order.

The laborious process of preparing large quantities usually requires two days and the help of as many pairs of hands as are available.

``There's no way I could do it by myself,'' Romero said. ``Everyone helps, even the small children help to press the masa.''

She has always been the center of action, not only for her own children, but also those in the neighborhood she has lived in since coming to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1949.

This year, Romero decided to share some of the family's bounty with needy children and their families, handing out tamales and toys, and singing songs at her home Thursday in the tradition of the posadas.

Posadas are gatherings to remember the biblical travels of Joseph and Mary through Bethlehem in search of a place to stay so that Mary could give birth to Jesus.

Tamales are made from a masa, or dough, of crushed white corn that has been boiled with pickling lime, then mixed with lard and spices into a paste. The paste is pressed onto corn husks, or in some countries banana leaves, and the tamal is filled with chilis, meat or other fillings, wrapped and steamed for several hours in the husk.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1) Concepcion Aguilar, center, and other neighborhood women sing a song about Mary and Joseph's search for a place to sleep during a posada celebration Thursday at Socorro Romero's home.

(2) Juanita Vargas, 10, swings at a pinata while other children run for candy at a fiesta in Pacoima.

Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 24, 2000
Words:515
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