I expected to relish Suzan Colón’s memoir Cherries in Winter: My Family’s Recipes for Hope in Hard Times. Colón’s premise of discovering the joys of home-cooked food after she is forced into a simpler lifestyle by a layoff is appealing. Yet, I find myself approaching the book with a resistance that only abates a number of chapters into my read.
For one, Colón opens her book by telling the reader that she lost her six-figure salary and therefore suddenly had to start shopping at big-box bulk stores. I cannot relate to such a mindset because: 1. I have never made close to six-figures in my life, and 2. I have never bought my food at Sam’s Club, or Wal-Mart for that matter. For years, I have managed to buy local, organic, high-quality food on a student budget (which I am fairly certain is less than Colón made on this book); it is simply a matter of what you prioritize.
As someone who has always valued food as a means to find beauty and joy in the most basic activities of life, I don’t understand those who think they can only afford McDonald’s because they are spending their modest incomes on Coach handbags instead. I have long been a proselytizer for the idea that more pleasure can be gleaned from a succulent meal shared with kind-hearted friends or a vacation to a local food festival than could ever be gained from shopping at the mall.
Also, Colón’s first recipe is so depressing: Suzan’s Rigatoni Disoccupati [Pasta of the Unemployed] — dried spaghetti and microwave marinara sauce. Surely she had enough savings from her high-paying job to splurge on some fresh vegetables to sauté in the sauce?
On a more fundamental level, I take issue with the widespread belief in American society that simplicity is something that you only learn to appreciate when you have to. I am perplexed that we don’t recognize the inherent disconnect between wealth and happiness when most of us possess so much, but are still on anti-depression medication. Why do we think that consumption is the default lifestyle choice, and any other way of living is somehow a failure?
That said, I have no doubt that the majority of the population looks at the world through a perspective more similar to Colón’s than my own, and, because of that, I appreciate her efforts at stepping herself and her readers in the direction of a genuine appreciation for a contemplative lifestyle that places more value on living well within ones means than constantly striving for more than we can afford just because society tells us we should want more stuff.
And Colón does move past her initial budget shock and desire to eat pasta all day to write some truly moving observations.
Colón’s is a story of family, and the binding thread that weaves through the book is her grandmother’s cookbook: a reminder that she comes from a line of women from whom she can draw strength, who have dealt with poverty by turning to the cooking pot. The book starts off with Colón reflecting on her mother’s memories of her grandmother’s life during the Depression, including a few of her grandmother’s recipes, such as Baked Pork Chops with Sauerkraut. The title of the book comes from the fact that, even when they are broke, this is a family of women who will still, on occasion, spend too much money to buy gleaming cherries in the dead of winter, just “because.”
I respect Colón’s desire to learn how to cook — something she says she never did as a single working-girl, preferring to eat out or take-out. But then she suggests adding hot dog pieces to her split pea soup, and I think, “She still has a ways to go.” I suddenly realize what this book reminds me of: Sandra Lee.