History of Bircher Muesli
The original bircher muesli was invented by Dr Maximilian Bircher-Benner in Switzerland around 1900. It consisted of grated apples, nuts, a small amount of rolled oats soaked in water for 12 hours, lemon juice (to stop the apple turning brown) and cream and honey or sweetened condensed milk. Tinned condensed milk was used because of concerns about TB in fresh milk at the time.1
Bircher-Benner developed it as a way of giving his sanatorium patients more apple, as this was the main component. He believed that raw foods were more nutritious because they contained energy directly from the sun. Each meal at the sanatorium began with a small dish of muesli (which he originally called Apfeldiätspeise or the apple diet dish) followed by mostly raw vegetables and a dessert.
By the 1930s Bircher-Benner’s invention was being consumed by a wider public. A London ‘special correspondent’ to Melbourne’s Herald newspaper described visiting friends in Switzerland in 1937 and experiencing bircher muesli for the first time:
Every day, always for breakfast (at 7 am), often for dinner, and more often than not for supper, we ate this strange, delicious food, which – stranger still to an unaccustomed tongue – they called ‘Birchermuesli’. I shut my eyes and tried to decipher the ingredients: apples I could recognise, and currants, and there were queer little red fruits; but how the whole delicate flavour was obtained I could not guess. But the important part about it was that, contrary to my deep-rooted conviction that anything good for one is necessarily nasty, this mixture was not only extremely palatable, but the very latest thing in diet!2
Bircher Muesli Today
So the original dish was neither restricted to breakfast nor mainly based on oats. Despite the latter, most versions today are based on soaked grain, usually rolled oats. Bircher-Benner soaked his in water but using apple juice is common, as is milk, or a combination of both. You could even use pourable yoghurt or kefir in some proportion. Since coarsely grated apple is the main ingredient of Bircher-Benner’s recipe, anything called bircher muesli really should include it. You don’t need the lemon juice of the original to stop the apple browning though, as the grated apple can be added just before serving. Dried fruit can be soaked with the oats if you like. And some nuts can be sprinkled on the top just before eating.
The reliable Felicity Cloake of the Guardian surveyed the recipes of well-known cooks and came to a conclusion with her own bircher recipe. She soaks the oats and dried fruit in apple juice, mixes the grated apple with a little milk to make a mash, combines with the oats, and adds a dollop of yoghurt and a sprinkle of nuts over the top. Easy. But I reckon you could just use water to soak the oats, as you will be getting plenty of apple and juice is then one less thing to buy.
As on my other pages, the eatery reviews below are ranked from best downwards. This is based not just on the taste of the food, but also how it is presented, the service, standard of coffee, ambience and value for money. And while you get evaluations based on the total package here, on my home page you can see my top ratings under each of the different attributes of food, coffee, ambience, etc.
Bircher muesli is far less often served in eateries than regular muesli, granola, or even porridge, and what I have here is the sum total of what I believe is available in Wellington. They were all good, so you can’t really go wrong ordering bircher-muesli in this city.
1. The recipe was possibly first published in Berta Brupbacher-Bircher and Max Oskar Bircher-Benner, Health-giving dishes, translated Marguerite Meissner from Das Wendepunkt-kochbuch, 1934, E. Arnold, London, 1942, p. 163.
2. Special correspondent, ‘Holidays in Switzerland’, Herald, 13 December 1937, p. 16.