When the economic downturn hit in 2008, Suzan Colon prepared for disaster – and rightly so. Writers are among the least essential employees, and she was shortly laid off from her lucrative job at a popular magazine. While her husband managed to keep his job, Suzan decided to start saving money by cooking more food from scratch. So she got her grandmother Matilda’s recipe book from her mother, and with it started to unearth a store of memories. Among Matilda’s recipes are Suzan’s recollections on her own hard times and many recounted stories from her family’s history from the late nineteenth century to the present.
I had a big problem with about a third of this book. Namely, I couldn’t relate to the author. I might be a bit harsh, but I’m not sure someone who had a six-figure job, continues to do freelance work, and has a year’s worth of savings is really the person to listen to about hard times. Sure, she can no longer justify $40 on having her eyebrows tweezed and can’t shop at the high-end organic grocery store in the center of Manhattan, but then I was thinking, who can justify these things? And could I deal with her unhappiness that she had to switch to a cheaper face moisturiser when I can’t justify buying any? Cut backs are necessary for her, but she’s not missing out on anything essential, and it’s clear her husband thinks her reaction is a little over-the-top. I shared his feelings, especially when he spends $70 on groceries for one home-cooked dinner and she worries when he doesn’t eat half a banana. I know what it’s like to worry about money, but half a banana? Suffice it to say, if you actually are poor, this is probably not a book for you. I was left wondering if she had to fill in the pieces to justify writing a book. After all, she needed the extra income.
It might work better for someone in Suzan’s income bracket. I’m probably being unfair, in that she never really complains. She is a fairly even narrator and she maintains a lot of joy in her life. I just think it all rubbed me the wrong way, because there are plenty of people in the US (and far more over the world) who are actually starving, who have no health insurance, no home, and can’t figure out where the money for the bills is going to come from. At least she donates to charity.
On the other hand, however, I really liked her family’s stories, and I did find them inspirational. For example, her great-grandmother once came home with a collection of vases, a little splurge to make her feel better in a hard time when her family mostly ate applesauce and bread, and those vases are still around. (Seriously, how can you compare the author’s attempts at cooking meaty meals from scratch with applesauce and bread for a week? See my point?) I loved her grandmother’s story, too; she was a typist who rose through the ranks and became a talented writer, if she never published, after nearly starving as a girl when she was forced to work to feed her entire family. And the way her grandparents moved to Florida on $100 and made it work was great. I liked the message, which was to sometimes justify little unnecessary expenses to help get you through the hard times, although again, this is just not possible for some people. This is a book for the upper middle class, no question.
Is it worth reading for that? Probably not. There are plenty of memoirs dealing with hard times and I don’t know that this one really did much for me. The recipes weren’t really anything to write home about, and to be honest, I’m not sure they would save that much money if you’re already cooking from scratch. I mean, one of them is for spaghetti with a jar of pasta sauce. I save money by making my *own* pasta sauce, which is healthier, cheaper, and tastes better than a store-bought jar. I’m sure that one was more for effect, but I just didn’t really need to read about rich people who are less rich now and whose cut back circumstances are more luxurious than my life on a good day.
So, in short, Cherries in Winter was not the book for me. But plenty of people seem to like it, so it might be the book for you.
I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from the publisher for review.