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Comfort Food for Hard Times

A grandmother's recipe box yields Depression-era treasures

En español | I had always prided myself on being a career girl like my Nana. She went to work as a secretary at the age of 16 and was the only employed family member during the Depression. Thanks to Nana's and my mother's sacrifices, I'd been able to follow my own dreams.

When I lost my editing job in this recession, my husband and I had to slash expenses. Takeout was out; inexpensive homemade meals were in. But I, the newly deposed princess of prepared food, was unprepared to cook, so Mom suggested I look through Nana's recipe file for inspiration.

In the tattered folder I found instructions for family favorites but also unfamiliar recipes. Most were typed, or written in charmingly indecipherable shorthand.

Grandpa, I learned, had impulsively bought a farm in 1942, taking Nana from her office typewriter in Manhattan to a century-old hearth oven in upstate New York. She didn't know how to use it, or even what to make in it; she had started working so young she had never learned how to cook. But Nana was nothing if not resourceful. Still city-glamorous, she bartered makeovers for cooking lessons from farmers' wives.

My Nana died when I was seven. But her resilience became my main ingredient as I tackled my joblessness, and her enduring spirit reminded me that I was made of stronger stuff than I thought. She left me recipes for food — and food for thought.

Suzan Colón is the author of Cherries in Winter.

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