I think we can all agree that out of all the complex and mysterious creatures out there, there are few more complex or mysterious than the Southern woman. We are sultry one moment and hard-edged business the next. I am convinced that we are inimitable masters in both the arts and the kitchen. Southern women have diverse appetites in everything from the studio to the kitchen as well. When I’m in a reading rut and can’t stand to take a risk on a new author, I turn to a trusted Southern voice who is guaranteed to make me reflect and make my sides split with laughter.
“Consuming Passion: A Food-Obsessed Life”, by Michael Lee West, is the consummate food writing of the South. West effortlessly blends autobiographical sketches with her thoughts and experiences regarding food, and she rewards your reading effort by tossing in at least a recipe per chapter. To get better Southern food lore, you’d have to turn to Craig Claiborne–but give up a few chuckles along the way.
From making cornbread to crafting sugared violets to seasoning a cast iron pan, you will find an endless assortment of clever ruminations on the Southern kitchen. West’s recipes are basic, delicious, and fool-proof, but her confidences regarding failures, successes, and draws in the kitchen that hook the reader and lure her in. Her anecdotes regarding family and friends will alternate between leaving you howling with laughter and shuddering. The uncles in the family all die young, but the aunts know it’s really “death by butter”. When Aunt Dell invites West over for an impromptu roast, the family finds the seasoning has been tainted by none other than weevils. They watch fascinated and horrified as Dell strains the sauce and serves it anyhow. West goes on hot pursuit of a bed supposedly from the childhood home of Margaret Mitchell and walks away with not only the bed but a delicious gingersnap recipe that might have originated from a childhood friend of Ms. Mitchell.
“Consuming Passions” straddles a fine line between witty and informative, leaving the reader to soak up every word and then reread the book. West’s work has since broadened to encompass mainstream fiction such as her popular Teeny series. Yet when I find myself with a craving that I can’t identify, be it literary or culinary, “Consuming Passions: A Food-Obsessed Life” is a regular cure all.