Cherries in Winter: My Family's Recipe for Hope in Hard Timesby Suzan Colon
When Suzan Colón was laid off from her dream job at a magazine during the economic downturn of 2008, she needed to cut her budget way, way back, and that meant home cooking. Her mother suggested, “Why don’t you look in Nana’s recipe folder?” In the basement, Suzan found the
What is the secret to finding hope in hard times?
When Suzan Colón was laid off from her dream job at a magazine during the economic downturn of 2008, she needed to cut her budget way, way back, and that meant home cooking. Her mother suggested, “Why don’t you look in Nana’s recipe folder?” In the basement, Suzan found the tattered treasure, full of handwritten and meticulously typed recipes, peppered with her grandmother Matilda’s commentary in the margins. Reading it, Suzan realized she had found something more than a collection of recipes—she had found the key to her family’s survival through hard times.
Suzan began re-creating Matilda’s “sturdy food” recipes for baked pork chops and beef stew, and Aunt Nettie’s clam chowder made with clams dug up by Suzan’s grandfather Charlie in Long Island Sound. And she began uncovering the stories of her resilient family’s past. Taking inspiration from stylish, indomitable Matilda, who was the sole support of her family as a teenager during the Great Depression (and who always answered “How are you?” with “Fabulous, never better!”), and from dashing, twice-widowed Charlie, Suzan starts to approach her own crisis with a sense of wonder and gratitude. It turns out that the gift to survive and thrive through hard times had been bred in her bones all along.
Cherries in Winter is an irresistible gem of a book. It makes you want to cook, it makes you want to know your own family’s stories, and, above all, it makes you feel rich no matter what.
“Perfectly in sync with today’s tough times. . . . Cherries illustrates the difference between broke and poor, using recipes—simple, sturdy, inexpensive—as well as family wisdom to show that when poverty looms, your best weapon may be a well-nourished soul.” —People
“Colón’s warm, poignant, honest voice and down-home, mouth-watering recipes make me want to go over to her house for dinner immediately.” —Kate Christensen, author of PEN-Faulkner award-winning The Great Man
"I love this book. . . . One of the best reads I’ve had all year.” —Julie Morgenstern, bestselling author of Shed Your Stuff Change Your Life
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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- Random House
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Read an Excerpt
YOU'RE HOME EARLY TONIGHT
Suzan's Rigatoni Disoccupati
[Pasta of the Unemployed]
1/2 lb. pasta
1 small jar prepared spaghetti sauce
Heat a large pot of water until boiling and add half a box of rigatoni or whatever pasta you have. Take lid off jar of sauce and microwave for a few minutes, stirring after each minute to check temperature. Test pasta frequently so it doesn't get overcooked because you're a little distracted. Drain. Put large, comforting amounts on plates. Top just-this-side-of-mushy pasta with nuclear-hot spaghetti sauce. Serve with Italian bread and an explanation of why you're home so early.
HUDSON COUNTY, NEW JERSEY
"I got laid off today," I tell Nathan.
"Oh," he says, looking to me for a sign of how he should react—How bad is this?
"It's fine," I say. "I'm fine. We're going to be fine."
After all, it's not as though I didn't see this coming. I've written for magazines for twenty-four years now, and there have been two recessions during that time. When the economy starts tanking, people cut back, and if they have to make a choice between food and a magazine, I go from being employed full-time to starting another stint as a freelance writer.
So, months before I got the call from Human Resources at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon (a meeting, I guessed on my way downstairs, that was probably not about a raise and a promotion; I was right), I had begun economizing. I kept a record of my expenses and was surprised to find that I was spending upward of ten dollars a day on lunch—nearly twenty if it was a bad day and I treated myself to sushi.
I stopped eating in the fancy company cafeteria and started brown-bagging it. My lunches were simple: tuna sandwiches, salads, last night's chicken. I asked Nathan what he spent on food in a week. The amount was so startling it led me not only to make his lunches but to bake muffins and put coffee in a thermos for him to take to work as well.
Every morning, once I got from New Jersey to New York, I skipped the subway and walked the remaining mile to the office, weaving through crowds of European tourists buying Levi's jeans and tickets to The Lion King. The summer went by quickly, and the walk became easier when the hordes in Times Square thinned out; as markets all over the world fell with ours, I heard fewer exotic accents.
The closer I got to the glass tower where I worked, the faster I walked, like a woman hurrying to an affair so good she knows it can't last. Oh, did I love that job, and everything that went with it. I loved saying good morning to the dignified security guards who wore not uniforms but suits and ties, and I got a thrill from going up the long escalator that was built into an indoor waterfall. I'd give myself a once-over in the mirrored elevator before stepping out onto my floor, wanting to look good when I walked past the fashion editors at their morning meeting in the conference room. I felt important as I settled down in my office—my own office, with my name on the door and a partial view: a chunk of Central Park and a sliver of East River. In between going to meetings with my bosses and editing features, I'd write about subjects that our readers, and I, found rich and meaningful. I'd always hoped to do this kind of work, and I was proud to be a part of this prestigious team. (Both staff and content were of such high caliber that a friend nicknamed the magazine "Harvard.") My job was so busy and exciting I'd almost forget about the plastic-wrapped sandwich in my bag, and why I'd felt the need to bring one instead of getting the chef's plat du jour in the cafeteria.
Between the two of us, Nathan and I saved about a hundred bucks a week, and I lost around five pounds with those mile sprints. I even wrote an article about my lunch savings for the magazine. (When it was published, the tuna sandwiches and leftover chicken I'd described were accompanied by recipes for Pan Bagnat and Brown Rice Salad with Salmon.) I baked on Sundays and ate a little less at night, the better to have enough for lunch the next day. At work, one of the company chiefs held a special meeting to assure us that there were no plans for salary freezes or layoffs. I kept baking.
Every little bit I did, every dollar I saved, helped me stay calm, as did rehearsing on the walk to work what I would and would not say the day the layoff came. And when it did, I was able to take the news gracefully, accept a hug from a boss relieved that I wasn't throwing a stapler at her, and pack my personal effects quickly.
Normally, eating two bowls of pasta would put me in a carb-induced coma. Tonight, after getting a six-figure pay cut, it's calmed me down enough so that I can begin to take stock.
My family's history of rainy days gave me more than enough incentive to put part of each paycheck into a savings account. It also made me frugal-to a fault, in my mother's eyes. "You need this coat," she said when we were in a department store one afternoon.
"But Mom, it costs six hundred dollars . . ."
"And it looks like it cost a thousand! Buy it, or I'm buying it for you!"
Her rationale betrayed our humble background: "In order to make money," she said as I reluctantly handed over my credit card, "you have to look like you already have it."
Fortunately, I wasn't wearing that coat when I negotiated a freelance contract with my now former company. The monthly stipend won't be enough to retire on, but between that and my unemployment benefits, I can put my bag lady nightmares aside for a while. Another relief is that I'm not doing this alone anymore—now I have a husband who says things like "Don't worry. I've got my job. Have another cookie and relax." Together, we have enough to pay our rent and bills and to buy groceries (less expensive ones, anyway; I may need persuasion to buy fine clothes, but not fine food).
All in all, I feel relatively safe, especially when Mom tells me about what Nana went through during her childhood and the Depression. By those standards, I'm nowhere near trouble.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Meet the Author
[insert author photo]
Suzan Colón is a contributing writer and editor for O, The Oprah Magazine. Her articles have appeared in Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone, Details, and other magazines. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, Nathan.
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Take one out of work writer with a rich history of strong women in her past who've overcome difficult financial times and mix generously with frugal recipes from her mother and grandmother and you have Cherries in Winter. Cherries in Winter is an easy read that's dotted with healthy, home cooked recipes that your Grandmother would be proud to serve and probably has. I loved the easy writing style and heart felt memories of growing up in the depression and other hard financial times that the author shares. It's particularly comforting during the tough financial times we're facing now to know that other women are in the same boat we are. Suzan Coron writes in a way that lets you laugh at your situation and smile with the hope of a better tomorrow.
This slim book, a mere two hundred pages, is filled with tasty slice of life vignettes, interspersed with delectable recipes. The story recounts snippets of the history of five generations of the writer's family. Recipes for life are found while recalling the lessons learned through cooking and sharing love through the generations. Good times and some very lean times are measured by the recipes, from the Great Depression to the current economic recession. This would make a great holiday gift for any member of the family.
This book is a delight from start to finish. Equating current economic times, and a newly unemployed woman's sudden fear of the future, with her grandmother's experiences going through the depression is, surprisingly, both refreshing and inspiring. There are old-time recipes in this little book that anyone of a certain age will remember and younger readers will find themselves wanting to try. For a small book, this one presents a whole range of interest from humor, to history, to an interest in uncovering your own personal families memories. What a charming book!
I picked this book up out of desperation because I really needed a book to read. I too am unemployed, though the author came from a much more lucrative employment than I had! She writes well & easily & the reader is caught up in her story & her family's story, which is very compelling. We've all had the same issues & possibly thought we could write about them, Ms. Colon does it better than we could. Not sappy, just invites you in & you finish the book thinking "wait, there should be more...what happened next." Worthwhile
Punished by an economy in turmoil, the newly jobless Suzan Colón turns to a swath of family recipes, long buried in her basement, hoping to find some comfort in hard financial times. She quickly realizes how closely her current challenges parallel those of her predecessors. Childhood tales seam pleasingly into past, future and recipes, a family history powered by food. Already highly relatable in content, Cherries in Winter feels like a worn-in leather armchair, its comfortable manner ensures a steady friendship with any reader who happens along. Her gracefully wrought 'lessons' of economy and cookery, things she learns from her mother and the sheath of unearthed recipes, brim with honest disclosures, both moving and humorous by turn. And the recipes, country cooking polished by necessary economy, glow heartily as only family fare can, from Aunt Nettie's Clam Chowder to Nana's Lemon Meringue Pie, some reprinted in spidery, early-century handwriting and some typed in 50s secretarial style. What Colón uncovers as she endeavors to survive a layoff with grim prospects is that economizing has always been part of her family's heritage. Her message? With strengthened family ties and a few good recipes, anything's possible after you've put up soup. A warm tale of hope and family, Cherries in Winter satisfies.
Growing up my mother used to occasionally make "Gravy Bread" which is comprised of day old bread scraps, bacon fat, flour, and water. While the ingredients sound terrible, the dish itself is quite tasty. This Depression era recipe was handed down from my great-grandmother to my grandmother to my mother to me. Many families have similar hardship recipes that have been passed down for generations. When Suzan Colón, author of Cherries in Winter, is let go from her six figure publishing job she decides to "put up soup." According to Colón "to put up soup" means to do "whatever will sustain you through rough going until things get better." The phrase also literally means to make soup. When Colón decides to "put up soup" she reaches for her Nana's Depression era recipe file of cheap and hearty fare such as: Chicken Pie a la Mississippi; German Potato Salad; Aunt Nettie's Clam Chowder; Quick Apple Cake; Butter Cookies; and Beef Stew with Yeast Dumplings. Colón discovers that her Nana's recipes fill more than just literal hunger, but also nourish the spirit. As Colón reflects, "The recipes Nana wrote and saved offer more than directions for making comfort food that sustained my family for four generations. They're artifacts from times good and bad - not vague references, but proof that we've been through worse than this and have come out okay. And right now, that's something I need to know." Each chapter begins with a recipe that Colón deftly weaves into a poignant lesson for weathering life's storms. Particularly touching is the chapter, "Fine Vases, Cherries in Winter, and Other Lifesaving Devices" in which Colón explains that poverty of the soul is far more crippling than a zero bank account balance. As Colón muses, the little extra spent when there isn't any extra is important because it reminds "us not to become miserly in spirit. We may be broke, but we're not poor." Cherries in Winter is a literary hot bowl of chowder for a weary reader's soul. Publisher: Doubleday (November 3, 2009), 224 pages Advance Review Copy Provided Courtesy of the Publisher.
As many of us do, I well remember my grandparents talking about the Great Depression. Little did I dream that some day I might be having a similar experience, so I recall what they told me and the stories of how they coped. Thus, I feel an affinity for Suzan Colon and what she learned when she went down to the basement and found her grandmother's cookbook. Matilda was her grandmother's name and she had left not only a collection of favorite recipes but also commentary, wise words from the past. At this point in her life Colon needed all the help she could get. It was 2008 and she'd just been laid off from her magazine editor's job in the downturn that left so many out of work. (She's now a contributing editor with O (the Oprah magazine). Nonetheless, more than the tried and true recipes from Grandmother Matilda she found a chronicle of how her family had gotten through some very tough times. Thus, what we have in CHERRIES IN WINTER is not only menu suggestions but examples to buoy our spirits. Hearing Colon read her story is a large plus as she brings a timbre and feeling to it which would be very hard for a professional narrator to duplicate. For those who are feeling a bit down, CHERRIES IN WINTER is a viable tonic. - Gail Cooke