The Pleasures of the Table 3

Today’s excerpt is “On Truffles”.

“Whoever says ‘truffles’ utters a great word which arouses erotic and gastronomic memories among the skirted sex, and memories gastronomic and erotic among the bearded sex.

This dual distinction is due to the fact that the noble tuber is not only considered delicious to the taste, but is also believed to foster powers the exercise of which is extremely pleasurable.

The origin of the truffle is unknown; it is found, but nobody knows anything of its birth or growth.  The greatest minds have pondered over it; at one time it was thought that its seed had been discovered, and it was declared that truffles might be sown at will.  Vain efforts and illusory promises!  No harvest was ever reaped from that sowing; and perhaps that is no great misfortune; for since the price of truffles is partly a matter of caprice, they might well be held in less esteem  if they were available in quantity and cheap.

‘Rejoice, my dear,’ I said one day to Madame de V- has just been shown to the Society of Encouragement on which it will be possible to manufacture superb lace for practically nothing.’
‘Why’, the lady replied, with an air of supreme indifference, ‘if lace were cheap, do you think anybody would want to ear such rubbish?’

Truffles were known to the Roman; but it does not appear that they ever tasted the French variety.  Those which they enjoyed came from Greece, Africa, and above all Libya; their substance was white and reddish, and the Libyan truffles were the most sought after, as being at once more tender and more fragrant.t

After the Romans a long interval occurred, and it was only recently that the truffle was rediscovered, for I have read several old cookery books in which no mention is made of it; its rediscovery may be said to have been witnessed by the generation which is passing away as I write.

About 1780, truffles were a rarity in Paris, being only obtainable, and then just in small quantities, at the Hotel des Americanains and the Hotel de Provence; and a truffled turkey was a great luxury, only to be seen on the tables of great lords or courtesans.

We owe the increased supplies of the present day to the provision merchants, whose numbers have grown considerably, and who, seeing that truffles were finding favour, sent agents all over the kingdom.  By paying good prices and using mail couriers and stage-coaches as means of transport, these agents made truffle-hunting a general activity; for since truffles cannot be planted, it is only by diligent searching that consumption can be increased.

It is safe to say that at the time of writing (1825), the fame of the truffle is at its zenith.  Nobody dares to admit having been present at a meal which did not include a single truffled dish.  However good in itself an entrée may be, it makes a poor show if it is not garnished with truffles.  Who has not felt his mouth water at the very mention of truffles a la Provençale?

A sauté of truffles is a dish of which the mistress of the house always does the honours herself; in short, the truffle is the jewel of cookery.

Are Truffles Indigestible?

It only remains for us to discover whether the truffle is indigestible.
Our answer will be in the negative.
This official and final decision is founded:

  1. On the nature of the actual subject of our inquiry (the truffle is easy to masticate, weighs very little, and is neither hard nor tough);
  2. On our observations, conducted over more than fifty years, in the course of which we have never seen a single truffle-eater suffering from indigestion;
  3. On the evidence of the most famous practitioners in Paris, which is a city of gourmands, and eminently truffivorous;
  4. And lastly, on the daily conduct of the legal fraternity, who, all things being equal, consume more truffles than any other class of citizens; witness, among others, Doctor Malouet, who used to eat enough of them to give an elephant indigestion, but who nevertheless lived to the age of eighty-six.

Hence it may be taken for certain that the truffle is a food as wholesome as it is agreeable, and that, eaten in moderation, it goes down as easily as a letter into a postbox.”

So there you have it, the truffle!

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38 thoughts on “The Pleasures of the Table 3

  1. a superb bit of writing so thanks for sharing the treasures of this book – But it was the end line that raised my smile “it goes down as easily as a letter into a postbox.” !

  2. Thanks for the truffle lesson. I am just going to go out on a limb but I think you might be leading up to a wonderful recipe with truffles in it in the very near future. Am I right?

  3. Oh the wonderful truffle. “Eaten in moderation”…if only we could. As expensive as they are, you are luckily to have a few slivers on a dish.

  4. I didn’t know that about truffles. I’d never really thought about it! I had no idea we’ve been eating them for only a short period of time and I had no idea they were that difficult to grow xx

  5. A fascinating post, Mandy, and I really enjoy these glimpses into Yesterday’s cooking. There’s no mention of the actual harvesting. I wonder if, at that time, they even knew that truffles only grew around certain trees. Then again, if truffles could create the effects mentioned in the opening statement of this post, well, I don’t think anyone would have cared where they came from, only that there were enough to go around. :)

  6. I adored reading this! This is one of the true food writers of the day.. wordy and cleverly witty.. I loved “eminently truffivorous”!! I may have to use that word! xo Smidge

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