December 2, 2009 / 4:48 AM / 9 years ago

Book Talk: Baking your way out of recession blues

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - When Suzan Colon was laid off from her dream job as a magazine editor in New York, her mother came up with some advice that has led to the next chapter of her life — “put up soup,” or resort to fortifying foods.

Colon picked up her grandmother’s recipe folder and started cooking everything from butter cookies to baked pork chops, realizing along the way that her grandmother had cooked her way through the Great Depression and other hard economic times.

“When in doubt, bake,” she writes, finding that using food as an avenue to the past can help put life in perspective.

This realization turned her mood around about being laid off — and inspired her first book, “Cherries In Winter: My Family’s Recipe for Hope in Hard Times,” which was released this month.

Colon spoke to Reuters about cooking and writing:

Q: Did the loss of your job come as a shock?

A: “I was laid off in September 2008. When the economy started tanking I’d been the magazine business for the past 25 years and I knew the warning signs. In recessions people cut back and magazines, though wonderful, are they essential? I knew it was a definite maybe. But this recession has affected people in any type of job. I could have been a bartender or day trader.”

Q: What got you into food?

A: “I was trying to cut back as much as possible and my mother and I started talking about food. I bought a bag of beans for $1.69 and realized I had no idea what to do with them. I asked my mother what to do and she said it is time to get out Nana’s recipe book and “put up soup.” I had also just started to write about food before losing my job.”

Q: Did you know this collection of recipes was there?

A: “I knew it was there but I didn’t really make any use of it because I was never much of a cook. My mother and I and my Nana were also so close that I think we have never really gotten over her death although it was about 40 years ago. It was very painful for me to look through her things. This was the first time I really took a hard look at her things and rather than being sad and nostalgic I was fortified and strengthened. I felt her more vividly than I have since she passed. Prior to this I idolized here but I did not identify with her.”

Q: But you hadn’t cooked much before?

A: “For a long time I wasn’t interested in cooking because I was single. I was probably constantly dieting to maintain some kind of slim silhouette to attract a husband, eating lots of vegetables and brown rice and Chinese takeout. This is the first time in my life that I have been interested in cooking, maybe because I have someone else to cook for and also because you can save money by cooking at home.”

Q: So how did the book come about, your first book?

A: “I have to give credit to my friends because I was telling them stories from my family history that my mother was telling me about my Nana getting through on a corn muffin and soup each day and surviving it. They all had family members who went through difficult times and that made them feel better about the recession. These friends said write this down in a book.”

Q: Did you find it easy to write?

A: “Once I got into it, it flowed naturally because of the way I had heard about the stories. I would show my mother a recipe about beef stew and she’d tell me the story about Nana making the dumplings that were like solid balls that could bounce off the walls.”

Q: Do you think people ignore their family stories?

A: “I think we forget. We have wonderfully short memories as a life saving mechanism, really. A lot of people’s stories, when you reach people of a certain age, are of parents scarred by the Holocaust and Depression era, parents who maybe became miserly with fear that that might happen to them again.”

Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy

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