Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cherries in Winter

Publisher's Summary. 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.

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.


  1. Awesome review! I have this book but have not read it yet!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Happy Thanksgiving to you too Missy!

  3. I've seen this on our bio table at work, but had no idea what it was about. It sounds like a perfect gift for a friend. Thanks for the fantastic review!