When magazine writer Suzan Colon lost her job as the economic crisis came to a head, she found something even more wonderful to replace it: a beautiful life, and a brilliant and thoughtful idea for a book:Cherries in Winter: My Family's Recipe for Hope in Hard Times.
The book--a quick read with print large enough even for those of us who just might be starting to need bifocals--revolves around how Colon's family history sustains her and inspires her through times of trouble. While they cook classic family recipes, Colon's mother tells her stories about her family's past. And then Suzan finds the writings and recipes of her "Nana" Matilda, who created a life during the Great Depression and WWII years with strength and verve. The lesson that Suzan Colon uncovers from her family allows her to recognize her own ability to weather the storms occuring in her own life.
Cherries in Winter is a lovely and relaxing book--but it isn't the perfect read in all circumstances. Clearly, it is not a political or analytical discussion of the economic crisis. Neither will it make much sense to anyone who has struggled with any real poverty or hunger. She and her family have plenty to live a comfortable life--just not the upscale life they had led before (of $200 haircuts and fancy meals). A husband with a job and a substantial savings account protect them.
But nevertheless, the shock and the changes for Colon's family have been very real. As the author says, "I used to tell my parents they'd never have to worry about their old age, that I would take care of them. Can I say that now?"
Of course, many people have weathered much worse during this crisis--and many had faced more difficult situations even before the recession started. If you are expecting a guide through any substantial struggle, this is not the book for you. Instead, it will probably appeal to those of us who have been required to cut back on our luxuries but are still doing OK--and those of us who have chosen a simpler life during this time (or before the economic crisis began).
There are several recipes in addition to the gentle storytelling. None really inspired me to cook them, but they did make me think of the foods that had been passed down to me in the history of my own family.
The title of the book, Cherries in Winter, is the author's articulation, handed down from the matriarchs of her family, of the idea that very occasional and very special treats can help us maintain a sense of balance: the importance of "spending extra, just once in a while, where there is no extra to be spent. Because." Why? "It's a deep breath reminding us not to become miserly in spirit. We may be broke but we're not poor."
What is your extravagance, your "cherries in winter"?
In the end, Colon recognizes her bounty: "It wasn't at all bad--sometimes what looked at first like more rotten luck turned out to be fate's little crooked smile."
I highly recommend this light but thoughtful book as the thing to pick up as you relax with a cup of tea in front of the fire--or as you sit in your garden on a warm summer day (a day I am dreaming about through this cold and snowy winter).