Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cherries In Winter

I've often thought that a required class for high schoolers should be How To Be Poor. Not How to Get Poor - that's as simple as saying, "Charge it." How to be poor is about knowing how to economize, how to live within your means, even when your means are scanty, and how to be happy without spending money to do it. That's a life skill that everybody should have.

I recently met a kindred spirit on the topic. Suzan Colón, the author of Cherries in Winter, asked me if I't like to review her book. I began to set aside her request, but the book's subtitle, My Family's Recipe For Hope In Hard Times, caught my attention. Recipes? Yes. Hard times? All around us. Hope? Not a lot of that. What did she have to say on the subject?

After being laid off in 2008, Suzan needed to economize in a big way. Her mother suggested she look in her grandmother's recipe files for thrifty ways to put dinner on the table. The recipes are in the book, charmingly reproduced as she found them, handwritten on the back of an envelope, typewritten, and clipped from a newspaper column (her grandmother's recipe for Chicken Roman won $5!). But more than the recipes, she found stories of four generations of tough, funny, thrifty people who'd gone through incredibly hard times with smiles on their faces. In the stories she found hope.

Suzan's written a book that's combination family history and very personal memoir, with cooking as it's backbone. There's plenty to smile at. My favorite story is her stylish grandmother, transplanted from the Bronx to a farm, making a deal with the local farmer's wives - "You teach me how to cook, bake, and can, and I'll do your hair and makeup." There are also the tragedies and dramas that make up everyday life - death, unemployment, out of wedlock pregnancy (when that used to be a scandalous thing), and infertility. But the perspective which carried all these people through life was one of optimism, hope, and good cheer.

In a country that thinks times are tough when you can't afford cable, it's a good attitude adjuster to read real-life stories of how people survived the Great Depression and World War II. While this book is not a step-by-step how-to-survive-a-layoff manual, the optimism, courage, and attitude of gratitude will certainly point you in the right direction. I'd recommend getting this book, even if you haven't gotten a pink slip, because you'll find lessons for life. Plus you get recipes. Like these tasty cookies. 7 ingredients, nothing fancy, kind of homey, but so delicious you'll want to make them again and again.

Suzan's Favorite Butter Cookies
- adapted from Cherries in Winter - My Family's Recipe for Hope in Hard Times

1-1/2 cup flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 cup light brown sugar
1-1/2 sticks of butter at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

1- Sift flour with baking soda and salt into a small bowl. Set aside.

2- In a mixing bowl, beat egg and sugar until light.

3- Add butter and vanilla to egg and sugar mixture. Beat till combined.

4- Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. (If using walnuts, you can add at this point, or save them to roll the dough logs in.) The dough will be quite sticky at this point.

5- Divide the dough into two parts and roll in wax paper. Place dough logs in the freezer overnight.

6- If you want to roll the dough in nuts, do so when you remove the logs from the freezer.

7- Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. with 2 racks dividing the oven into thirds.

8- Working with one log at a time, slice the dough into 1/4-inch disks. Place on an ungreased baking sheet, leaving room between the cookies, as they will spread in the oven.

9- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, till the tops are set and the edges are lightly browned. Let cookies rest on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes before removing to a cooking rack.


Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

This sounds like an excellent book for everyone. We could all benefit from economy.

Suzan Colon said...

Hello Lynn,
And thank you for such a wonderful review! I'm so glad you liked the book (and Nana's butter cookies!), and I hope your visitors feel the same way.
All the best to you,
Suzan Colon
author of "Cherries in Winter"

Roving Lemon said...

Thanks for this review. I especially like the title, and I'm adding this to my amazon wish list!

Bethany said...

Sounds like a wonderful and touching book! Recipes with family stories are always wonderful to read -- reminds us of our own family treasures!

The Blonde Duck said...

I'm going to check out that book. It sounds wonderful.

Melinda said...

The book sounds delightful! The cookies look simply delicious too.
Good luck with your book Suzan! I love reading old cooking and family recipes. I have a few of my grandmother's old cookery books and I love the pages where there are spills and little side notes written by her. I love knowing she made that recipe.
I am hoping some day my daughter's
children will read my kitchen blog for how I did things in the old days!
One thing I wish I had paid more attention to was how they canned everything. My grandmother did the best canned Bing cherries and dill pickles.
Nothing was wasted...and there would be cherries in winter too!

Anh said...

First off, I like the titles! And your post is so wonderful to capture the feeling of the book. I hope it will come to Australia!

grace said...

what a timely and apt post, lynn! i've been grilling my grandparents lately, trying to learn all their secrets for surviving on just the bare necessities--they're full of useful stuff!

Alissa Maxwell said...

I love this - How to get poor? Charge it! How to be poor... that takes a bit more work.

P.S. I saw your comment on my blog and was wracking my brain to figure out who you were. I clicked over to your profile and thought maybe you were a friend of our family - I grew up in Bellevue! But then I saw your Simple Bites logo and it all clicked. Cheers!

Elle said...

Sounds like a great book. I've know people like that all my life...attitude is free and a positive attitude, and gratitude for what you DO have, can get one through some pretty tough places. The cookies are ones my Dad would love...simple, almost plain, but yummy.

Homemade Heaven said...

I love old cook books, and one that was made during the World War, and just after when people were living on rations - I love the ideas those "old girls" came up with on how to live on nothing and still have cake in the house. Even when they had only 1 egg a week!
I will look out for this book, we can all learn lessons from this.
BTW - I did the menu planning this week and I will admit life in the kitchen has been totally stress free! Even had time to make a batch of jam:)

The Blonde Duck said...

I think I'm going to order this book. I've been reading all sorts of reviews on it and I can't find one bad thing!

Jan (Family Bites) said...

I love the title of this and the back to basics approach sounds great.

Dolce said...

This is a beautiful story! And thank you for this recipe - I am always on the lookout of new sugar cookies!

Abby said...

I love that kind of cookbook; much like my grandmother's church cookbooks!

earlybird said...

What a lovely post, and something that spoke to me as I have had to learn how to scale back over the past couple of years whilst my husband has been completing his teaching degree. The butter cookies look wonderful and I'm saving the recipe for future use! Thanks!