It's so beautifully arranged on the plate — you know someone's fingers have been all over it.

— Julia Childs on nouvelle cuisine

By , on December 24, 2005

Books, Catskills


I picked up this book (Catskill Hotels) in Phoenicia (NY) today for a last-minute Christmas present to give to my parents in Michigan. Spent some time surfing through it this evening. It contains some great photos and brief stories of some of the more famous hotels in the Catskill mountains, along with tidbits about the activities which went on during those hotels’ heydays… While digging up an image of the book cover at Amazon.com, I came across several other intersting books about the Catskills and the Borscht Belt days.

Catskill Hotels (Images of America) - Irwin Richman

At one time, according to the Catskill Institute, there were more than a thousand hotels spread across the mountains of Greene, Ulster, Delaware, and Sullivan Counties. The Catskills were an exciting world full of pleasures to be enjoyed, with summer and winter activities characterized by entertainment, food, sports, card playing, and food again. Catskill Hotels, with a collection of some two hundred images, tells the story of this world, which began with Americaís first resort hotel, the Catskill Mountain House, continued with places such as the world-famous Grossingerís, and can still be found today at Kutsherís Country Club, the Mountain House at Lake Mohonk, and a few other hardy resorts.

Other Books on the Catskills

In the Catskills

The culture of the Catskills the wide range of hotels, bungalows, rooming houses and elaborate resorts in the mountains in New York State that catered to a mainly Jewish clientele has become, in the broadest sense, American culture: Danny Kaye, Milton Berle, Joey Adams, Mel Brooks, Sid Caesar, Jerry Lewis, Tony Curtis and many others got their start there. This anthology of 34 essays, memoirs, fictions and songs (illustrated with wonderful, evocative photographs) conveys some of the religious, social, historic, sexual and ethnic complexity that “the mountains,” as it was called, embodied. Brown (Catskill Culture: A Mountain Rat’s Memoirs of the Great Jewish Resort Area) has been the unofficial historian of this part of the Jewish-American experience, and this anthology gives a nice, if superficial, taste of the literature. There are engaging popular memoirs (like an excerpt from Joey Adams’s 1966 autobiography, The Borscht Belt, and surprising fiction pieces, such as one from Abraham Cahan’s classic 1927 novel, The Rise of David Levinsky, as well as the lyrics of the 1941 song “Shoot the Shtrudel to Me Yudel!” which was dedicated to Yudel Slutzsky, owner of the Arrowhead Lodge. While Brown reprints some fascinating historical material, such as Abraham Lavender and Clarence Steinberg’s “Jewish Farmers of the Catskills,” which charts the start of the Jewish presence in the area and the beginnings of the resort culture, many of the pieces a chapter from Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar and one from Allegra Goodman’s Kaaterskill Falls are easily available and add little. This is a great look at the history of Catskill culture for readers new to the material, but those looking for more depth will be disappointed.

He Had It Made - Sidney Offit

The Catskills aren’t a place, the experts say, they’re a way of life–a resort area known for vibrant sexuality, round-the-clock humor, “indoor mountains,” and oceans of chicken soup, sour cream, and borscht! When Sidney Offit’s He Had It Made was published in 1960, it was hailed as a fully textured novel that celebrated the area with wit, depth, and extraordinary authenticity. “…the best sketch of Catskill dining room and kitchen life ever written.”

Remember the Catskills: Tales by a Recovering Hotelkeeper

This book takes the reader back to the heyday of the Catskill resort era. The author attacks the cliches about the Catskills, providing her spin on this great era in the resort industry. What makes this book a truly fun read is the humor. This book brought me back to a place that was special to me.

Sullivan County's Borscht Belt (Images of America)

Sullivan County, the Borscht Belt, the Catskillsóall are synonyms for the greatest American Jewish resort area, the playground of about one million visitors a year during its peak from 1920 to 1970. The Sullivan County of Borscht Belt legend really consists of the eastern part of Sullivan County and a bit of southern Ulster County. Here are the large towns of Liberty, Monticello, and Ellenville and the small towns of Woodbourne, Hasbrouck, South Fallsburg, Livingston Manor, Fallsburg, Loch Sheldrake, Greenfield Park, Mountaindale, Accord, Ulster Heights, Kiamesha Lake, Kerhonkson, Swan Lake, Glen Wild, Hurleyville, Ferndale, White Sulphur Springs, Rock Hill, Parksville, Woodridge, and White Lake. ÝÝIn Sullivan County: Borscht Belt, you will find the lost world of the kuchaleins and bungalow colonies and the hotels, great and small. This was a world to be enjoyed, whether swimming in the Neversink River, watching unmatched entertainment, or eating the legendary Borscht Belt meals. Join us on the lawn, on the handball court, or at the Ping-Pong table. Dive into the pool. Welcome to day camp. All of this and more are here in Sullivan County: Borscht Belt.

Borscht Belt Bungalows: Memories of Catskill Summers

Every year between 1920 and 1970, almost one million of New York City’s Jewish population summered in the Catskills. Hundreds of thousands still do. While much has been written about grand hotels like Grossinger’s and the Concord, little has appeared about the more modest bungalow colonies and kuchaleins (“cook for yourself” places) where more than 80 percent of Catskill visitors stayed.

These were not glamorous places, and middle-class Jews today remember the colonies with either aversion or fondness. Irwin Richman’s narrative, anecdotes, and photos recapture everything from the traffic jams leaving the city to the strategies for sneaking into the casinos of the big hotels. He brings to life the attitudes of the renters and the owners, the differences between the social activities and swimming pools advertised and what people actually received. He reminisces about the changing fashion of the guests and owners—everything that made summers memorable.

The author remembers his boyhood: what it was like to spend summers outside the city, swimming in the Neversink, “noodling around,” and helping with the bungalow operation, while Grandpa charged the tenants and acted as president of Congregation B’na. [Read the introduction to Borscht Belt Bungalows(PDF)]



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