When Suzan Colón finds herself unemployed and near financial ruin, she’s led to one source of immeasurable comfort for support: her grandmother’s recipe file. Even more valuable than the hearty foods described are the family stories that accompany them — Nana’s family lore that’s shared with Suzan by her mother, Carolyn.
Confronted with the realities of unemployment in a bad economy and dwindling freelance opportunities, Colón must get creative with her finances — and that includes saving money on meals shared by she and her husband, Nathan. Nana’s recipes for snowbound steak and quick apple cake take on a new meaning when Suzan must use her grandmother’s creative concepts and apply them to the twenty-first century, devoting her energy to cooking these “comfort foods” while still staying optimistic.
Suzan Colón’s Cherries In Winter: My Family’s Recipe For Hope In Hard Times is a memoir, family dialogue and cookbook in one — and I enjoyed it for what it was: a series of vignettes and snapshots looking at one woman’s struggle to stay afloat in our Great Recession while simultaneously enjoying tiny moments of indulgence in an otherwise bleak landscape.
The strength of Cherries In Winter really rests in the stories of Matilda, Suzan’s grandmother, and the way in which she coped during the Great Depression, feeding and sustaining her family on the meager salary she earned in the city. As Suzan digs deeper into her grandmother’s recipes and Carolyn shares anecdotes on her grandmother’s life, Suzan realizes how fortunate she is to be paid — even sporadically — for what she loves to do: write. Interspersed with her grandmother’s recipes are little articles and stories she’s written, one even titled “You’ve Got To Be A Bitch To Get Ahead!” Considering the time period in which it was written, can we shout radical? Her grandmother never became a writer, but her words live on. Through Suzan.
Unfortunately, Suzan’s own life comes across as dankly depressing in the story. I’ve read a few of memoirs centering around unemployment, most of which are handled with wit. Unlike Jen Lancaster’s Bitter Is The New Black, Colón doesn’t have self-deprecating humor to fall back on — and I think that shows. This slip of a novel — clocking in at just over 200 pages — fails to dive deeply into any time period, and I didn’t connect as well with Suzan as a narrator as I would have liked. The book focused heavily on the past but moved too quickly between time periods, leaving me to wonder if I was standing in the Bronx or Florida. And though the chapters were clearly marked and dates given, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disjointed.
Colón’s memoir is easily devoured in an evening, but I didn’t close the final page feeling satisfied. Like a well-baked pie, the narrative was delicious — but I wanted more. More about Suzan. More about her marriage. More about her reactions to the foods she was making, and more about what was going to happen. The present-day described in the book was bleak; I didn’t get that feeling of hope and optimism I craved. I wanted to end on more of a high note.
Lovers of memoirs and food narratives will find plenty of sumptuous recipes in the book, a few of which I’d love to try (butter cookies? Yes, please!). And while I enjoyed reading about Colón’s family history, I just wish I could have gotten a bigger helping.
3.5 out of 5!