Simmer and Smoke: A Southern Tale of Grit and Spice
Growing up in a rural environment, Shelby Preston has had to struggle for everything. But her love for cooking does not stop her from dreaming of someday becoming a great chef. Shelby also carries the hope that she’ll be able to provide a better life for her and Miss Ann, her young daughter. On the contrary, Mallory Lakes, who has had everything handed to her on a silver platter, has a successful career as a food blogger for a popular newspaper. But behind her affluent persona, Mallory struggles with unresolved conflicts from her past. While neither women have crossed over into nor fully understand each other’s world, Shelby and Mallory will meet at crossroads that will change their lives forever.
First time author and food blogger, Peggy Lampman knows the exact ingredients needed to create an appealing story. Written in split narrative format, Lampman’s debut novel features the lives of two women faced with challenges during changing yet turbulent times in Georgia. Alternating between Shelby and Mallory’s narratives, Lampman’s 2011 plot persistently balances opposites. Where there is hopelessness, there is always a ray of hope in some form or fashion. A prime example is how Lampman incorporates the warmth of food. A shared trait between the principal characters, Lampman closes most chapters with a commentary on various recipes that reflect Georgian cuisine.
Another opposite Lampman laces heavily throughout her storyline is dreaming for a better life amid adversity. While it is obviously understandable why Shelby seeks to improve her situation compared to her dead-end rural surroundings, it is difficult to imagine that a person of wealth would need to dream of improvement. Period. But in creating Mallory, what Lampman does is strip away all the posh and zero in on her humanness. That said, Mallory has dreams, too. Included in the lineup of split narratives, though, is Miss Ann, who while only mentioned a few times, plays a minor yet pivoting role. A determined second-grader, Miss Ann has her own set of dreams in the works.
Yet in the midst of all these characters, Lampman utilizes the above-mentioned theme in connection with the plight of Mexican immigrants, who constantly fear deportation while working demeaning jobs for extremely little pay. To add insult to injury, Lampman also meticulously underscores the flip side—the harsh realities of bigotry prevalent in Georgian society and the legal system toward Mexicans. Undoubtedly, pondering this latter lifestyle leaves both cast members and readers to pause as they realize that their adversities pale in comparison.
Although Lampman’s story closes on a positive note that includes a slew of wonderful recipes, she sends a powerful reminder that bigotry is not dead and that the immigration system still has major problems. With a portion of the book’s revenue going directly to the Southern Poverty Law Center—an American nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and public interest litigation—Simmer and Smoke is an eye opening and thought-provoking must read.