Tortillas go from small Mexican household kitchens to U.S. factories

July 4, 2014 

pat lunney

BEA AHBECK CASSON — Merced Sun-Star Buy Photo

Growing up, one of the foods consumed in our household every single day was the good old flour tortilla.

We had homemade tortillas for breakfast, tortillas for lunch and tortillas for dinner. As a matter of fact, the tortilla in our house, as in many other Hispanic households that I knew of, was used in place of a fork for eating our food.

As a kid there was nothing better than waking up to the aroma of fresh homemade tortillas. I can still remember seeing my mom make flour tortillas early in the morning. She would mix the ingredients: flour, salt, baking powder, lard and warm water, and then knead the dough until it became smooth and elastic, sprinkling the dough with a little bit of flour as needed. Of course, there were no measuring spoons or measuring cups to talk about, just the “feel” of it.

She was living proof that “practice makes perfect” – becoming a “pro” at making tortillas quickly and accurately. I say accurately because I remember when I started learning how to make tortillas she would tease me and tell me that mine looked like the state of Texas after rolling them out.

Corn tortillas were a bit easier to shape into a circle.

There are still some businesses where you can find homemade tortillas. Locally, certain Mexican restaurants still make homemade tortillas, like Marie’s Mexican Kitchen in downtown Merced. If you take a peek into the kitchen window as you walk in, you can actually see cooks making tortillas from scratch.

As I and other members of my family have had the opportunity to travel to different parts of America, one thing is very evident – great tasting tortillas can be found in everywhere in the United States, from Washington, D.C., to Washington state.

Tortillas are being sold in large quantities, and making them has become big business. As the demand increased, companies saw the need to develop their tortilla factories. Some of the factories are in places you would least expect. To my surprise, even the state of Hawaii has a tortilla factory.

One local business that produces tortillas in volume is Rancho San Miguel grocery store at Yosemite Parkway and Parsons Street in Merced. It’s amazing to see the the machines and workers producing thousands of tortillas each day.

Here in Merced County, there was a time when every community had at least one tortilla-making business owned by a family. Today, I know of only three local family-owned tortilla businesses; one is in the community of Planada called “Margarita’s Tortillas,” one is in Livingston called “Fortuna’s Tortillas” and the one in the city of Merced called “La Casita Tortillas.”

It is incredible to know that these three family-owned tortilla businesses have survived the “test of time” and are run by members of different generations of those pioneering business families. So far, they have been able to keep their doors open while competing with the bigger tortilla-making businesses..

You may not think that it makes any difference where you buy your tortillas or what tortilla label you purchase, but it does. So when you go to the grocery store, take the time to buy locally made tortillas, such as “Margarita’s Tortillas,” or “Fortuna’s Tortillas,” because the money stays in the local economy.

They are family-owned, small businesses that support the local economy and hire people who live in the community. These local tortilla businesses are part of what makes America great.

The tortilla is an American product to be proud of, one that originated in the kitchens of small, humble households of hardworking people. They are something to celebrate this holiday weekend and the perfect choice for a Fourth of July picnic or meal.

Irene De La Cruz is a resident of Planada and has been involved with a number of community events and projects throughout Merced County. She owns her own business. She attended Merced College and California State University, Sacramento. She can be contacted at dlcirenel@gmail.com.

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