Thursday, February 11, 2021

Review: Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colòn

When the recession of 2008 hit, we were moving from one state to another for a job change. It was hard but we were lucky. Although we lost a lot of money selling our house, financially we were okay and still had a paycheck coming in. Suzan Colòn, a writer and journalist, was laid off from her job, having to rely on sporadic freelancing and her partner's paycheck. This pushed her to be more frugal and thoughtful in her purchases, especially groceries, and Cherries in Winter is her memoir of that time, of looking back at the recipes her family has loved and used in previous lean times and of finding a way to push through and find hope for the future.

Colòn goes through her grandmother's recipes, using them to economize even as she bemoans the loss of the ability to shop in an expensive grocery store and to buy whatever struck her fancy without considering the cost and that cost's impact on her weekly bottom line. Buying whatever she wanted was a sign that she'd moved beyond her family's long history of living paycheck to paycheck and the need to stretch their meals as far as possible. So when she lost that ability, it was hard for her to accept. But as she cooked the economical recipes from her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother, she learned not only how to make it through but also about the strong, resilient women from whom she came. The dishes she recreates, some not entirely faithfully, come with family stories attached and there is wisdom imparted along with the stories and food. She weaves tales from her own life and from the women who came before her into the almost diary like narrative. It is possible to see Colon's magazine background in the spare, straightforward writing. Each chapter is started with a recipe or a snippet from her grandmother's column that leads her down memory lane as well as into her current situation. She is undoubtedly privileged and far from destitute, which will make her unhappiness with her situation tough for some to stomach (a little pun to lighten the mood), but she's honest about the difficulty she faces and the reason why it takes such an emotional toll on her. This is a very quick read. The family stories are heartfelt and illustrative; it was nice to see Colòn realize what is most important in her life, and it's surely not where she can afford to buy her groceries.

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