Friday, February 19, 2010

Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colón

Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colón
Copyright 2009
Doubleday Books - Memoir/Cooking
202 pages

When Suzan Colón was laid off from her six-figure job at a magazine in 2008, she had already been tightening the budget for months in anticipation. Her husband was still employed and she was able to negotiate a contract to do some freelance work, but their health insurance was no longer covered and the finer things in life had to go. No vacations, no meals at fancy restaurants. Suzan needed to learn to cook the old-fashioned, frugal way or "put up the soup" as her family referred to conserving in hard times.

I received an ARC of Cherries in Winter and picked it up primarily because I read somewhere that it's now been released and it appeared to be a quick read that I could wedge into the reading schedule between Bible readings, chunkster and the Beth Moore non-fic that's just a wee bit longer. The brevity of this book is actually a bit of a blessing. It's nothing to call home about. The author jumps from the 2008 and 2009 time period to telling stories about the struggles of her relatives in past times. She shares some recipes -- most of which do not appeal to me, although there's a quick apple cake recipe I intend to try.

My biggest problems with the book are that it read like an excuse to toss something together to sell in order to boost the family income and that her struggles were nothing by comparison with those of anyone else in her family -- the single mother who saved money in a coffee can so they could vacation in Bermuda off-season (the cut-rate time of year turned out to be hurricane season), the grandmother who nearly starved to death and watched a man jump to his death during the Depression, the grandfather who loved to eat raw potatoes because they reminded him of how happy he was to find food to eat while he was serving in France in WWI . . . all of her ancestors endured some major strugges.

It's also notable that Suzan had saved 6 months' income (remember, her income was 6 figures) and was able to obtain unemployment while her husband was still working, in addition to making money for freelance work. It just doesn't sound like she had it all that hard to me.

What I liked about the book was the relaxed style, the fact that it's a quick read, and the stories about her family's history -- the way her great-great-grandmother Matilde wasted an entire week's pay on two beautiful vases (which are still in the family) and the family had to eat nothing but bread and applesauce for a week because she figured there would always be another week of eating, but it's not every day you can buy something beautiful to look at for the rest of your life. Stories like that were what kept the pages turning.

3/5 - An average read, not inspiring or helpful if you're looking for money-saving ideas and most of the recipes sound frankly awful. I preferred the ancestral stories to the author's own and at times thought some people might consider the book a bit offensive at a time when many people are truly struggling. The author has had to watch her money more carefully, but she was certainly not suffering.

Favorite Quote:

We lived in a small one-bedroom apartment where the living room doubled as Mom's bedroom and our dining room, depending on whether the convertible couch was opened or one side of the drop-leaf table was up. When I told her our television was broken, Mom said we couldn't afford to fix it. "What am I supposed to do until you get home?" I whined. "Go to the library," she said in a voice filled with warning, "and get a book." (My reading level shot up from fifth grade to high school level that year).

Other reviews:

Book-a-Rama (I agree, the cover is wonderful!)
Redlady's Reading Room

My thanks to Doubleday for the review copy.


  1. Sorry you didn't enjoy this one more.

  2. Kathy,

    I liked the ancestral stories a lot. I hope that comes across. In general, it was average but definitely not a waste of time.

  3. I think you sized it up pretty well...still, I wouldn't mind giving it a go.

  4. Bybee,

    It's definitely worth reading, if only for the little peeks into the past.

  5. The family stories sound interesting, and it is really a great cover, but it doesn't sound like anything that can't be missed.

  6. I have an ARC of this, and I do intend to read it. A bit hard to feel sorry for someone who is not exactly suffering from having no job.

  7. Jenclair,

    Well, I did rate it average. But, note that the second person I linked to thought it was a wonderful book. I hate to ever dissuade anyone from reading a book they might end up enjoying. And, I did love those family stories.


    Okay, I know Beth is not your real name but I'm drawing a blank. Starts with a C . . . Anyway, yes, that was my biggest problem with it. At least she was honest about her income, how much she lost and the fact that she was on unemployment *and* making money (but nowhere near the level she earned before being laid off). She could have fudged a little and made it sound like she was as bad off as the ancestors, but she knew she was better off than many and said so.

  8. I had the exact same problems with it. I would have loved it, if it had been all about her ancestors.

  9. Christina,

    I have to agree with that. If the book had been limited to stories about her ancestors' struggles (with the recipes, even though I thought most of them sounded yucky), I would have liked it a lot better.

  10. Hi everyone,
    I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to read and review my book--yes, even to those who weren't crazy about it. True, my time during this recession hasn't been as awful as my ancestors' time during other, worse events in history. And with good reason--my grandparents and parents hoped that I learned something from the stories they told me. Plus my childhood was far from comfortable, and remembering that really helped me save those pennies for the rainy day we're all experiencing now!
    As for the recipes, mine are the yucky ones, but trust me, Nana's are really good!
    Thanks again to all who took the time to read the book and to write about it. As a booklover myself, I really appreciate it :)
    All the best,
    Suzan Colon
    author of "Cherries in Winter"

  11. Suzan,

    Thanks for dropping by! I wouldn't assume everyone will find some of the recipes yucky-sounding. I'm not a fan of meat, so it was the meat recipes that made me cringe. Not my thing. Dessert, however . . . unfortunately, you can tell by looking at me that I love my desert. Best of luck with your book!

  12. I'm with you on the meat thing--The Hubbins and I take frequent vacays from meat and head into the land of pasta and risotto (cheap! Delish!). Mom reminded me that not only were these recipes from the meat-lovin' 1940s and '50s, but my family was living on a farm during wartime--they had access to chicken, which was sometimes hard to come by. I got that. After testing the recipes for "Cherries in Winter," The Hubbins and I took a looooong break from all things feathered and hooved. So glad you're into the dessert recipes, though! Sugar is my weakness :)
    All best,
    Suzan (again)

  13. Suzan,

    My parents were brought up during the Depression and my father served in WWII, so I could relate when your mother talked about getting soooo sick of the chicken. I used to say all we ever ate was "chicken and hamburger, hamburger and chicken." They were raised frugal and stayed that way, so the menu didn't vary much. It was exciting when I moved away from home and discovered one can have a totally chicken- and hamburger-free meal! LOL Funny to look back on that.

    We do eat a lot of pasta in this house. My favorite meal, though, is steamed veggies with cornbread. Even I can cook that. Mostly. :) Sugar is my weakness, too. I need to get over that because I'm too short to let sugar be a weakness. Pounds show on a small frame.

  14. I had been wanting to read this one but I think I'll put it on hold. I have too much to read to set aside time for an "average" read.

    Life by Candlelight

  15. Amy,

    It's a good one to slip in between longer reads, when you need a quick break. I did find it average, but I can tell you I loved the stories about her ancestors' struggles, so there's plenty to make it worthwhile. I don't regret reading Cherries in Winter at all.


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