By HEATHER CATHLEEN COX
Special to the NEWS
There will be tamales for everyone at the sixth annual San Benito News “Best Tamales in Town” Contest! Well, there will at least be enough for our distinguished panel of judges, one of whom is none other than Frutoso “Fruty” Gomez Jr., Chief Appraiser for the Cameron Country Appraisal District.
Gomez said, “I’ve been appraising property for property taxes for 40 years. I started out when I was 20, going to college in Brownsville, working at the courthouse. In 1982 I started in appraisal, and in 2003 became chief appraiser. Been here ever since.”
The Chief Appraiser reminisced about growing up in the Valley, with a family who migrated to northern states to work at certain times each year. “I worked at churches, and growing up, in Ohio and Michigan as migrant workers. I spent half of my lifetime in the north and the rest here (in the Valley).”
Gomez explained that his family left the Valley each May and returned the following October.
“I’ve been eating tamales since I can remember,” Gomez mused. Although his favorite tamales are the pork tamales his mother used to make at Christmastime, he is up for the challenge of finding the best of the best San Benito has to offer.
Gomez definitely feels up for the challenge of judging this year’s competition. “I’ve judged a (school) contest many years ago, and this will be my first food contest. I can’t wait to see how many tamales I can eat, and of course find the best tamale. When it comes to tamales, I don’t have any trouble trying to eat as many as I can,” he laughed.
“I love tamales around this time of year,” he said, “or even in the summer months.” Gomez recollected a time in his youth when making tamales was a process involving most if not all of his family. It was also a Christmas Eve tradition.
His father “would buy two hog heads and cook them outside in two boiling parts, and he built a little campfire, put pots on top of the grill.” Once the hog heads finished cooking, his mother “would take them inside and grind the meat in a handheld grinder and grind it into ‘hamburger meat’ and (add spices).” His sister would help their mother prepare the tamales.
“We had pork, bean or spicy pork. My mom would cook beans and rice, and that was our supper on Christmas eve…along with coffee for the adults and Kool-Aid for the kids.” On Christmas morning, he said they enjoyed the leftover tamales for breakfast.
Gomez said his wife Isabel Leal Gomez also makes delicious tamales. Isabel, a special education teacher at La Paloma Elementary, and Fruty have one son and four daughters, all of whom are married or engaged. The Gomez’s also have six grandchildren, ages 2 to 15. Their family members live dispersed across the state, some in the Valley with others living in Austin and San Antonio.
The holidays are a very special time to the Gomez family, and Fruty wanted to be sure to say, “Everyone enjoy the holidays. Remember to love one another and have peace.”
As always, this contest is open to the public. Everyone from the community is invited to bring one dozen of their best tamales to the News office, located on 356 N. Sam Houston Blvd. in San Benito by or before noon on Friday, December 16.