Katish, first published in 1947 and now reprinted in the Modern Library Food series, tells the tale of the plump, rosy-cheeked Russian émigré who was hired as a family's live-in cook in Los Angeles during the 1920s. Katish brought with her not only savory recipes, but a cheery determination that was as nourishing as her blini and borscht. Told from the viewpoint of her employer's daughter, Katish is a bemused but also tender account of the life and times of the unstoppable cook who brokered marriages and started new bank accounts for fellow émigrés, while offering dozens of recipes for the dishes she produced. The narrative reveals both a personality in full flower and a time and place in which the American domestic scene still supported live-in help and three square meals a day, enjoyed at a common table.
The book also traces Katish's Americanization: her first acquaintance with California markets and American butchers; her first car and electric refrigerator; and an American proposal. Punctuating the narrative are Katish's recipes for her special Russian Cheesecake, Pelmney (meat-filled dumplings served with sour cream), Easter Babka, and the hot yeast rolls and cinnamon buns that excited the marriage offer. A final chapter presents a small recipe collection "taken from Katish's own notebook" that includes a superlative Chicken à la Kiev. The recipes delight, but it's Katish's story, told with a keen eye for the life and times of a domestic celebrity, that makes the book a treasure. --Arthur Boehm
From Publishers Weekly
These stories of a well-to-do 1920s Los Angeles family and their recently immigrated Russian cook occasionally dated, always charming originally appeared in Gourmet magazine, then were published in book form in 1947. Frolov's collection is fifth in a series of resuscitated foodie classics edited by Ruth Reichl (Comfort Me With Apples). In 1924, Frolov's Aunt Martha finds "just the girl" to work in the family's kitchen. The entire family quickly warms up to Katish, especially after tasting her earthy Russian cooking particularly her cheesecake. Katish insists on planning menus herself and buys gifts for Frolov's mother with any money left over from her budget. She refinishes the kitchen table specifically for making pastry and purchases various antique bowls for her different soups. Frolov embellishes beautifully on simple details like the crackleware bowls that Katish acquires, evoking an entire era with a few carefully chosen words. While some of the many recipes, such as borscht, are not as exotic to modern readers as they were to the narrator and her family in the '20s, others are still unfamiliar, like Pelmeny Dumplings and the one-dish meal Golubtsy. Gently sentimental, irony-free writing is rare today, and while it's fortunate that it is no longer "okay" to mock foreigners for grammatical errors (Katish speaks in broken phrases like "Good steak is thanks to butcher") readers will appreciate the display of innocence therein. (On sale June 26)
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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