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Composers In The Kitchen: Gustav Mahler's Just Dessert

Gustav Mahler, in his younger days, was a vegetarian. There's a story, recounted by one of his biographers, about how the composer was teased by fellow musicians in a restaurant when he refused meat, instead asking for spinach and apples.

Mahler might have caught on to this way of eating from reading an essay by none other than classical music's most nortorious veggie-head, Richard Wagner.

In 1880 — the same year Wagner published an essay endorsing vegetarianism — Mahler wrote to a friend:

For the last month I have been a total vegetarian. The moral effect of this way of life, with its voluntary castigation of the body, is enormous. I expect nothing less than the regeneration of mankind. I advise you to eat suitable food (compost-grown, stone-ground, wholemeal bread) and you will soon see the fruit of your endeavors.

Eventually, Mahler gave up his vegetarian diet, but a string of health issues meant that he always watched what he ate.

We don't know exactly how handy Mahler was in the kitchen, but we do know that his sister, Justine, baked a killer Marillenknoedel — traditional Viennese apricot dumplings. One of Mahler's friends, Ludwig Karpath, recalled the composer's shock at finding out that Karpath wasn't a fan of Marillenknoedel.

"What!" Mahler shouted to his friend. "Is there a Viennese to whom Marillenknoedel means nothing? You will come with me right away to eat the heavenly dish. My sister Justi has her own recipe for it, and we will see if you remain indifferent."

Karpath became an immediate fan of the dumplings. Maybe you will, too. Below is Justi Mahler's recipe for Marillenknoedel.

One request. In the comments section, tell us which music by Mahler might enhance these tasty dumplings. I'm thinking the scherzo from the Symphony No. 2 might work. What about you?


2.2 lbs. potatoes

8.75 oz. flour

One egg

Pinch of salt

3.15 oz. butter

3.5 oz. bread crumbs

13 oz. apricots

Preparation: Place the potatoes, cut and peeled, through a mill once, then work them into the flour, egg and salt on a cutting board while they are still warm to make a smooth paste.

With a rolling pin, or by hand, knead the paste, flatten it and cut into fine slices, carefully enclosing an apricot in each slice. Then let the knoedel cook for five to 10 minutes in a sauce pan of boiling salt water. Drain. During this time, melt the butter in a frying pan and brown the bread crumbs over a low flame. Then roll the knodel in bread crumbs and sprinkle with sugar before serving.


One may:

--use cream cheese in place of the potatoes, so as to augment the amount of flour

--replace the apricots with prunes or cherries

--add yeast to the paste

--place a cube of sugar inside each apricot slice

--serve the knoedel with ground poppy seeds in place of bread crumbs, moistening them afterwards with butter and sugar

(We're grateful to author Ira Braus and his book Classical Cooks. Braus is associate professor of music history at the University of Hartford.)

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Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.