Author, linguist Maideh Magee dead at 90

August 14, 2012

Maideh Magee, the author of a popular Persian cookbook, a teacher of Persian, Turkish, Russian and English as a second language, a lecturer on French and Russian art and a U.S. diplomat’s wife who accompanied her husband on assignments around the world, died Aug. 7 at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington. She was 90.

She had heart and kidney ailments, said her husband, Charles T. Magee, a Foreign Service officer who retired with the rank of ambassador.

Mrs. Magee was the author in 1960 of “In a Persian Kitchen,” which was based on her favorite dishes and meals from her Middle Eastern childhood.

Writing in the New York Times, food critic Craig Claiborne called it “at once a fascinating collection of recipes and, for anyone interested in the foods of other lands, a pleasure to read.”

There were 19 hardcover editions of the book printed, and it is in its seventh paperback printing. At its first publication, it was one of only a few, if any, English-language cookbooks about Persian cuisine.


Maideh Magee, the author of a popular Persian cookbook, a teacher of Persian, Turkish, Russian and English as a second language, a lecturer on French and Russian art, and a U.S. diplomat’s wife, died Aug.7 at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington. She was 90. (Joe Heiberger/The Washington Post)

In the 1950s and 1960s, Mrs. Magee was a language teacher at the Navy Language School, the Defense Language Institute, Georgetown University and, when her husband was posted to Canada on his first Foreign Service assignment, at Michigan’s Wayne State University.

From 1991 to 2010, she was a docent at the Hillwood museum in Washington, where she gave lectures in several languages about heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post’s extensive collection of Russian and French art.

Maideh Mazda, a resident of Washington, was born to Persian parents in Baku, Azerbaijan, on May 28, 1922.

She grew up in a large household where four languages — Azeri, Persian, Turkish and Russian — were spoken by different family members. After her parents returned to Iran and settled in Tehran, she attended an English-language high school operated by American Presbyterian missionaries.

In 1943, during World War II, she decided to continue her education in the United States. She traveled alone from Tehran to Egypt, where she found passenger booking on a merchant ship.

In 1947, she graduated from Douglass College, the women’s college of Rutgers University in New Jersey. In 1949, she received a master’s degree in international relations from the University of California at Berkeley.

She became a U.S. citizen in 1952 and seven years later married Charles T. Magee. Besides her husband, survivors include a daughter, Maya Magee, both of Washington.

As told in “In a Persian Kitchen,” Maideh Magee first tried her hand at Persian cooking in 1944 to bring back the tastes and smells of their native dinner tables to homesick Persian students in the United States. By the end of the 1950s, this activity had evolved into the writing of a cookbook.

At the request of the New York Times, Mrs. Magee took a train to New York to prepare a meal for Claiborne, who suggested that she might want to bring any of her favorite pots, pans or utensils. She did, and she also brought her own food.

“He made me undercook everything, so it would look better in the photographs,” her husband recalled her as saying on her return to Washington.

Claiborne ate only a spoonful from each dish she had prepared, Mrs. Magee told her husband. He even had his own tasting spoon, but she said she would have liked him to have at least used a different spoon for each dish.

Mrs. Magee accompanied her diplomat husband to assignments in the Soviet Union, France, Bulgaria, Canada, Switzerland, Latvia and Ukraine.

In 1986, when Magee was consul general in Leningrad, Vladimir Horowitz stayed with them for a week. When the pianist became unhappy and distressed over the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in his native Ukraine, Mrs. Magee prepared his favorite “gogol-mogol,” a sweet egg, milk and honey drink that was reputed in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe to have the same curative and spiritually regenerative powers as chicken soup.

Mrs. Magee’s avocations included folk dancing in native costumes.