An Interesting Dinner with Emmy Noether

Amalie Emmy Noether was a revolutionary in the field of mathematics.  She is known for her work in abstract algebra, ring theory, and Noether’s theorem.  She was born today, March 23, in 1882 in Erlangen, Germany, daughter of Max Noether (1844–1921), a prominent mathematics professor.
As a girl, she attended a school for girls where she studied foreign languages, sewing, and cooking.  We’ll get to that later.
In 1904 she enrolled in University to study mathematics, the only woman among 46 male students. She was the second woman ever to earn a doctorate at the University of Erlangen, with her thesis on invariant theory. However, her career was hindered by her pro-Soviet politics, anti-semitism, and opposition to women taking professorships, and Noether never drew a regular University salary.  She was known as a radical, a member of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany, who was unapologetically political and “hated war and chauvinism in all its forms and with her whole being.”
Mathematicians Felix Klein and David Hilbert established a “centre of excellence” for mathematics in Göttingen, where Emmy was the first woman to receive a teaching license, but she received no salary. In 1932, Emmy Noether and Emil Artin were awarded the prestigious Ackermann-Teubner Memorial Prize for arithmetic and algebra.  Just one year later, the Nazis revoked her teaching license.  She was invited to teach in the United States as a visiting professor for a year, at the women’s college Bryn Mawr.  She also lectured at Princeton. In 1935, Emmy Noether died unexpectedly during surgery at Bryn Mawr Hospital.
The number theorist Olga Taussky-Todd said of Noether, “not everybody liked [Noether], and not everybody trusted that her achievements were what they were later accepted to be. She irritated people by bragging about them.”  However, she also had her fans. Albert Einstein was noted to remark of Noether, “In the judgement of the most competent living mathematicians, Fräulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”
Emmy enjoyed good debate and good food.  Taussky-Todd recalled that during a dinner, Emmy talked constantly and “…gesticulated violently when eating. This kept her left hand busy too, for she spilled her food constantly and wiped it off from her dress, completely unperturbed.”
What did Emmy eat?  Well, absent a menu, we can narrow it down.  She studied cooking, as all young girls did at school, in Bavaria in the late 19th century.  She likely made and ate traditional Bavarian dishes.  I’ve chosen one that won’t be too messy during a lively dinner debate- though I suggest using a napkin nonetheless. As Noether could tell you though, a dress will do fine.

Semmelknödel (Bavarian Bread Dumplings)

Ingredients (makes 14)

5 kaiser rolls (about 1 lb.), thinly sliced
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 small yellow onion, minced
2 cups milk
¼ cup minced parsley, plus more to garnish
¼ cup flour
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Hot pork gravy (or gravy/juices from the main dish served) for serving


1. Heat oven to 325°. Spread sliced rolls onto 2 baking sheets, and bake until slightly dry, about 12 minutes; transfer to a large bowl, and set aside.

2. Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 10 minutes; transfer to the bowl with the bread, and set aside. Add milk to the saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat, and pour over bread. Add parsley, flour, nutmeg, and eggs; season with salt and pepper, and using your hands, mix until evenly combined.

3. Bring an 8-qt. saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Moisten hands with cold water, and form bread mixture into 2″ balls (about 4 oz. each); set aside. Working in batches, add balls to boiling water, and cook until firm, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, drain briefly on paper towels, and transfer to a serving platter; sprinkle with parsley, and serve in bowls surrounded by gravy.

Source: Promoting Excellent Researchers Today for the Science of Tomorrow- The Emmy Noether Programme

Source: Poor Taste as a Bright Character Trait: Emmy Noether and the Independent Social Democratic Party, Colin McLarty, Science in Context 18(3), 429–450 (2005).  Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/S0269889705000608. Printed in the United KingdomSource: Saveur Recipe Semmelknoedel

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