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Katish: Our Russian Cook (Modern Library Food) Paperback – June 26, 2001

8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

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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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Food
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Modern Library Paperback Ed edition (June 26, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375757619
  • ISBN-13: 978-3757576196
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,474,484 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By F. Orion Pozo on October 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
Katish is the nickname of the young Russian widow who is taken in by Wanda Frolov's mother as a cook in 1920's Los Angeles. Wanda, the author, and her brother lived with their widowed mom. As a middle-class California family, hiring a cook was an extravagance for them, but Wanda's aunt talked them into doing it. In the 1940s, when she was grown, Wanda wrote the chapters of this book as a series of articles in _Gourmet_ magazine. They were later gathered together as a book in 1947. Now the Modern Library Food Series has reprinted this delightful literary cookbook for a new generation of reader-cooks. Like many things culinary, these memoirs have improved with age.
The story of the book revolves around the cultural differences created as Katish and her Russian immigrant friends interact with an American middle class family of the 1920s. It is a heart-warming story in which both sides profit from the relationship. _Katish_ is a delightfully amusing glimpse into the culture of the time and is populated with warmly portrayed friends, relatives and situations.
As each food is discussed in the narrative, the recipe is listed. They are easy to follow and delicious. The recipes are a wonderful introduction to Russian family cooking. Breads and rolls, soups, desserts, side dishes, and main dishes are all well represented. Sadly, there is only one salad and one beverage (a delightfully rich hot chocolate). Thirty of the recipes contain meat or meat products. Thirty five are ovo-lacto vegetarian (many with butter and sour cream). Only nine are animal-free vegan recipes and six of these contain alcoholic beverages. An interesting aside is that, for a Prohibition-era story, there are surprisingly many recipes with alcoholic beverages.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a lovely slice of Americana, in addition to a quirky story of a Russian immigrant and a collection of divine recipes. The flow is perfect, with the recipes jumping in right when a dish is described. It took me back to my summer in Russia and I can't wait to try more of the dishes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By TheConsumer on June 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
Wanda L. Frolov wrote for Gourmet and Better Homes & Gardens during the 1940s & 1950s. This delightful novel/cookbook follows the adventures of Katish, a Russian refugee who settles in Los Angeles and becomes the cook for a middle-class household. Although some of the humor is a bit dated, it still is a very enjoyable read, and the recipes are great, too. (Katish's cheesecake still remains Gourmet's most requested recipe.)

In the original 1947 edition, Frolov noted that Katish was in fact, a fictional character, but said, "Strangely enough, most people seem to want to hear that it is all true exactly as set down. Well, perhaps I see their point: One doesn't look for fiction in a cookbook."

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Katish - Our Russian Cook" is a curious little book. I read about it in the introduction to a recipe from "The Gourmet Cookbook" for Fresh Mushroom Soup, which says that "Katish escaped the Russian Revolution and eventually settled in [LA], where she became the . . . cook for a large family." I adore Ruth Reichl and love ethnic cooking, so I ordered the book.

The first thing I noticed upon receiving it, however, was its classification as a work of "Fiction/Cooking," thus calling into question whether or not Katish existed and the authenticity of the recipes. (Minor quibble: The author's "large family" consists of only herself, her brother, and her widowed mother.)

A major complaint, though, is the price. The book was published in 2001 with a pricetag of $11.95 (although I got it for CONSIDERABLY less, including shipping - thanks, price_war!), even though it's a paperback volume, printed on cheap paper, and only 152 pages long (including a number of rather silly illustrations and a brief index). How do you spell "rip-off"?

The recipes are interesting, although "Katish" apparently had a predilection for Maggi Seasoning (notably omitted from the Gourmet version of the mushroom soup which uses lemon juice for flavoring instead, and is terrific, by the way!).
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