We are thrilled to share our interview with Suzan ColÃ³n, author of Cherries in Winter.
In your new book, Cherries in Winter, you describe so well the intermingling aromas of Irish and German immigrant cooking in the tenement housing of New York. For us, we envision open doors to kitchens, where women found cooking to be vital to both their family’s health and their social and mental well being. We think these women used their kitchens as a place for social interaction both with family and neighbors to help them through hard times. What are your thoughts? Do you agree?
I absolutely agree that kitchens were a major social hub for family and extended family (neighbors, friends, relatives who lived nearby). Also, let’s remember the time: My Nana was born in the Bronx in the early 1900s in an area that would have been described today as “low-income.” These are people who didn’t have access to, or money for, food made outside of the home. Cooking at home was a necessity, as well as a way to maintain ties to one’s place of origin, as with my great-great grandmother Matilde and her baked pork chops, sauerkraut, and applesauce recipe from Alsace-Lorraine. But certainly the kitchen was the place where people gathered for meals and social interaction, and that must have been such a blessing during difficult times.
We’ve watched the video on your website of you and your mother together making your grandfather’s meatloaf. To us, it represented the value of generations of family coming together in the kitchen as a means to preserve heritage. Could you tell us a little more about the value of moments such as this one?
The value of the times I’ve been able to get together with my mother and cook with her is indescribable. This was a major source of the sense of gratitude I hope I conveyed adequately in the book. The salary I lost from my job couldn’t come close to the amount of joy I experienced when I was able to go to my parents’ house on any random Tuesday and sit with my mother while we looked at Nana’s recipes and then cooked them together. Recipes are part of a family’s history, and I got to know my ancestors–and my mother–in ways I never had before by cooking this food with Mom. Then, sharing it with my Dad and my husband brought everything full circle. I can’t imagine how people must feel when making family recipes from grandmothers with their children.
We loved the part of your book when Matilda traded hair and makeup lessons for kitchen tips and recipes with the local women in her Saratoga NY farm community. In fact, we often see cooking novices trading some of their non-cooking related skills with their friends that have more advance cooking abilities. So, this part of your book resonated with us. Is there a time in your life, like with your grandmother Matilda, that you also thought “outside the box” to enhance your cooking ability?
What cooking ability? 😉 I’ve had a long time to recognize my strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve been more than happy to sing for my supper by telling entertaining stories to friends and other people who can cook. I think it’s hilarious that I’m now being invited to TV shows to do cooking segments, considering my lack of skill!
I found it very heartwarming to discover that Nana had been the same way (well, maybe not as kitchen-klutzy as me) and had to learn how to cook, and then how she learned. That was typical of her ingenuity. The barter system works…
I haven’t had a chance to put that into play, but making these recipes has been a great starter course in cooking. You can’t get much simpler than classic American comfort food like the Chicken Roman recipe in the book. Of course, the meringue part of the lemon meringue pie totally threw me, but I’ll tackle that recipe…some day.
Necessity is not only the mother of invention, but also motivation. And with things being what they are economically, there’s still a need for me to learn how to cook a decent supper and a nice muffin. We can’t go back to buying prepared food and getting take out–and frankly, I don’t want to. I get a tremendous sense of satisfaction from cooking our meals, and I dearly love hearing my husband say, “Wow, this is really good.” I hear that a little more frequently than I used to, thanks to Nana’s recipe file.
We hope you enjoyed our interview with Suzan. Cherries in Winter is our recommended book this month. It’s a heartwarming and unique exploration of Suzan’s family throughout generations of financial hardship and a poignant reminder of the significance that food, family recipes and relationships play in life.
To learn more about Suzan, visit her website: http://www.cherriesinwinter.com/