“Inside a cardboard box in the trunk is a fraying brown accordion folder that doesn't look like much, but to my eyes it's a precious family heirloom. I tuck the treasure under my arm protectively and run back up to our apartment. Specifically, to the kitchen.
There I open the folder and get a preview whiff of what's inside: paper. Yellowing with age, yet well protected through decades of being handed down and packed, moved, unpacked, and stored in the old trunk.
Nana's recipe file.”
The paragraphs shared here come from a funny, poignant, lyrical small volume called Cherries in Winter. Written by Suzan Colón, it's subtitled My Family's Recipe for Hope in Hard Times; she penned it after being laid off from her dream job at a magazine during the economic downturn of 2008. She continues:
“There are pages handwritten in script so meticulous it could be a computer font, giving instructions for Aunt Nettie's Clam Chowder and German Potato Salad. There are typewritten directions for Chicken Pie ŕ la Mississippi in both an Old-Fashioned Method and a Modern Recipe. The one for Sausage-Corn Skillet is typed on the thin airmail correspondence paper called, appropriately enough for a recipe, onionskin.
When I put them in order, the recipes are like a time line of America's eating patterns. The undated ones, and those up to the early 1940s, show that food was simple and available. I can tell when World War II came because baking directions suddenly offer creative substitutions like lard and soya flour for butter, wheat flour, and other rationed ingredients. And in the 1950s and early '60s, there are articles on how to re-create the dishes people ate while touring Europe, a trip that was considered de rigueur at the time.”
When she was first laid off, the author went through a crisis of sorts, wondering how she and her husband Nathan would make ends meet. Later in the chapter from which the earlier passage comes, Ms. Colón writes:
“But I have the file. The recipes Nana wrote and saved offer more than directions for making the comfort food that sustained my family for four generations. They're artifacts from times both good and bad – not vague references, but proof that we've been through worse than this and have come out okay. And right now, that's something I need to know.”
Part cookbook, part memoir, and totally irresistible, Cherries in Winter should not to be missed. Be sure to read all about it.
Copyright © 2009, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.