“Okay, Mija. Add three cups of flour. For every cup of flour, add a teaspoon of shortening. And then another one for good measure.”
I’m staring down at the bowl, dumbfounded. How am I going to memorize all of these ingredients? She hands me a pad and a pen. Still fighting the cloud of confusion, I write down the ingredients my mom knows by heart.
“You’ll know when the dough is good by the texture. It just takes practice.” She adds a portion of the boiling water from the stove to the flour mixture. She mixes, kneads, mixes, kneads. Mom pauses for a brief moment, and then adds more water. I feel so small in her spacious kitchen, suddenly aware of all of the tortilla making etiquette I don’t know. I stare at this woman. My mom is smiling at me, so happy to be showing me this tradition.
Of course, the texture of this batch turns out perfectly on the first try. She has me feel the dough with the back of my hand. The ball is warm and soft. She covers the dough with a rag and moves to the stovetop to turn it on. My mom returns with a rolling pin. I scrunch up my nose. This isn’t going to be pretty.
“Okay, Mijita. We’re going to start rolling the dough into smaller sections.” I try to mimic the amount of dough she has taken. Her hands dance around the dough in a circular motion. They are perfectly rounded and flat. My hands attempt the same movement. Smiling, she grabs another section, “Like this, Mija.”
I try again. This one is a little better. Not as perfect as the ones Mom has produced, but it will do. I roll out another and place it on the counter. For my one, my mom has made four.
“Next, we flour the counter. We have to make sure the dough has enough, or it will stick to the stove top.” With a skilled hand, she sprinkles flour on the counter. Her mouth edges into a smile, “Mexican husbands don’t think you make good tortillas if you have to add flour.” I smile to myself. Good thing we both have white husbands.
She sets one of our balls onto the sprinkled flour and grabs the rolling pin. “This is the hardest part. You roll the dough lightly the first time once. Then you flip it. Roll up, and then down.” She pauses to add more flour. Mom hands me the rolling pin. I grab a ball, set it on the counter and roll. I’ve pressed too hard, and now my dough is a very exaggerated oval.
“My mom used to tell me my dough looked like sandals. I got better with practice, so will you.” Mom fixes my mistake, and hands the rolling pin back over to me. I try again, lighter this time. I look at her for reassurance, she nods, and I flip over the tortilla. She rubs it with flour, and I roll again. Up, down. Flip. Up, down. Flip.
After a couple times, I finally produce one that looks like a circle.
My mom is grinning. “You are a fast learner, Mija!” I don’t say anything, I just smile back. I think of my grandma and how she once did this with her daughter. What is it like to not be able to ask your mom how? I tuck that thought away.