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Mirlitons on sale in Paul, Kings Road, 2008
Mirlitons on sale in Paul, Kings Road, 2008

OK, so I’ve posted about this before, but hey it’s Christmas, and it’s still one of the great mysteries of musical life: why in the Kingdom of the Sweets in The Nutcracker do you get chocolate, coffee, ginger, sugar plums, and er….reed pipes?

Although the mirliton is some kind of instrument (the nearest thing to it is a kazoo), it makes a lot more sense of Konfiturenburg if you know that the Mirliton is also a cake. One, the mirliton de Rouen is a cross between a Bakewell tart and a Maid-of-Honour, the other, the mirliton de Pont-Audemer is bit like a cigarette russe filled with a chocolate praline mousse, each end dipped in melted chocolate to seal the mousse in.

Other people want to climb Everest or swim with dolphins, I just wanted, before I die, to see a bloody mirliton, this darned reed pipe or cake, which is on the title page of one of the most famous and overplayed pieces of music in the world, but no-one could ever show me. Well, I’m happy now. Firstly, over at Louis La Vache’s recipe page, there is a picture of a real mirliton (the instrument) and a recipe for the mirliton de Rouen.

Mirlitons from Patisserie Aubry in Pont-Audemer
Mirlitons from Patisserie Aubry in Pont-Audemer

But what  Tchaikovsky had in mind is almost certainly not this cake, but rather  the mirliton de Pont-Audemer,  a speciality of the town of Pont-Audemer in Normandy,  allegedly [but disputedly] first created by Guillaume Tirel (a.k.a. Taillevent) in 1340, and still available from the Patisserie Aubry in that town, and pictured on the left. It’s easy to see the relationship between this and the instrument shown on Louis La Vache’s page, right down to the ‘membrane’ of chocolate at either end.

The picture on the left is of a box of these mirlitons from Patisserie Aubry  in Pont-Audemer.

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist