Another installment from Michael Lee West’s southern memoir Consuming Passions on family, identity and recipes ….
Even when I’m all by myself, I never cook alone. My grandparents are dead, along with my father and some favorite aunts … but my family lives on in their recipes.
I bring Mimi’s chocolate cake to potlucks and Aunt Tempe’s majestic coconut layer cake to holiday parties. I make Aunt Blanche’s pancakes on Sunday morning. The aunts, living or dead, left me with a legacy of food—and the confidence to cook it.
Whenever I’m making biscuits, cutting them out with a child’s jelly glass, I feel my grandmother hovering. She is somewhere over the pot rack, telling me that biscuits are like cats, they don’t take to handling. ‘Am I doing this right?’ I ask her. ‘You’re doing just fine,’ she says. ‘Don’t let me stop you.’
And later …
This recipe was my grandmother’s grandmother’s recipe. Whenever I bake it all my forebears gather in my kitchen. Elizabeth taught Estelle to make this cake, and Estelle taught Mimi, and Mimi taught Ary Jean, and Ary Jean taught Michael Lee, and Micheal Lee taught Trey and Tyler. Every time I break an egg, their spirits guide me. When I stir the batter, I am stirring up these kitchen ghosts. They bolster me; but most of all, they whisper in my ear a split second before the timer buzzes.