Consuming Passions by Michael Lee West

It’s not often that I do the following:

– want to cook every single thing in a cook book*
– read aloud every single food description to whoever happens to be sitting next to me
– finish a book and move it from my bedside table to my cookery book shelf
– dream about potato salad

I did all of those things recently and all can be attributed to Michael Lee West’s memoir, Consuming Passions.

In brief, Consuming Passions centres around food and family. Stories of West’s mother and mad aunts (because it’s all about the aunts) and their egg salad, coconut cake and fried chicken are interwoven with how West herself ‘went from non-cook to Southern gourmet’. Of her mother she says –

“She was a fearless fryer; it seemed incredible that she’d given birth to a child like me. A Southerner who could not fry and egg, much less chicken, was a disappointment and a disgrace… Other family members spoke up. “You’ll be an old maid,” said Sharon Sue, one of the churchy cousins. “You can’t have a marriage without fried food.””

It’s a real-life Steel Magnolias or Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, with recipes.  There’s drama – fires, family feuds and swinging from chandeliers – and food that sounds just so goddamn good – gumbo, key lime pie, lemon chess pie, jalapeno potatoes and Uncle Bun’s Barbecue Sauce. And did I mention that West can write?

“I gazed out the curved rear window, watching the pine trees give way to cypress. The car seemed to travel at a slant, into a fermented zone where banana trees and mosquitoes thrived, where the damp atmosphere held sway over meringue and praline. Imagine living in a place where the humidity could wreck a dessert. It didn’t matter. I adored everything about it.”

4/5 Made me hungry.

* except the ‘Cocktail Franks in Grape Sauce’ because cocktail franks – blurgh. And hot fruit – blurgh.

Serve Consuming Passions with fried green tomatoes. West’s recipe is below (I pinched the pic from here).

Fried Green Tomatoes

3 tblsp plain flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
dash cayenne
1-2 tblsp canola oil
4 green tomatoes, sliced 1cm thick

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Heat oil in a large skillet. Dredge tomatoes in the flour mixture – really pack it on. Using great caution, place the tomatoes in the pan. A spatula is perfectly acceptable for this procedure, although tongs will work too. Bear in mind that you can use the spatula to threaten anyone who calls you a wimp. Meanwhile, fry 3-5 minutes per side. They’ll be golden brown, crusted like Atlantic Coast sand. Drain the slices on paper towel.


3 responses

  1. I loved the quote about her mother. In Glasgow we’re of course known for a fondness for frying anything and everything ourselves! We could paraphrase for our new city motto- “Glasgow: You can’t have a city without fried food!”

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