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ON THE ARTIFICIAL CULTURE OF TRUFFLES IN WOODS,
ORCHARDS, AND GARDENS; MORE PARTICULARLY IN THE CWMS (DINGLES), AND LLWYNS (GROVES) OF
Honos erit huic quoque pomo.–Virg.
The ignorance of any mode of raising Truffles by artificial culture has long been a subject of reproach to modern horticulture. The secret, however, is at length discovered, and the attainment of this desideratum may justly be deemed one of the greatest victories ever yet obtained by art over nature.
After more than a century lost in fruitless attempts, the first successful experiments have been made in Italy. From thence the art passed into France, and more recently into Germany, always with the same happy results; and it may now be safely asserted, that this precious tuber may be propagated by means of artificial culture, if not with equal facility, at least with the same certainty of success, as the mushroom.
Indeed, our great English botanist, Ray, has described the Trufle by the designation of “ the subterraneous mushroom.”
It is from the treatise of a German on this subject, Alexander de Bornhobz, that we have principally collected our materials for this paper; and as the work has not yet, as far as we know, been translated into English, it will at least have the recommendation of novelty in its favor.
That plants have their predilections and their aversions, their sympathies and their antipathies, has long been known. A century has now passed since Philips told us, in Miltonian verse, that
“ The prudent will observe what passions reign
In various plants, (for not to man alone,
Close neighbouring. The Herefordian plant
But it was not until very lately discovered that, in addition to the many other valuable properties of the oak, it possesses the singular quality of impregnating, in certain situations, the soil beneath its shade, with the prolific faculty of producing and propagating truffles, provided the earth be sufficiently saturated with the quercine matter.
The two essential requisites for the formation of an artificial trufle bed, are a moist and shaded situation, though not altogether impervious to the sun, and a profusion of oak leaves.
From the comparative moisture of our climate and soil, it may fairly be presumed that England, and more particularly Wales, possesses superior advantages over other countries for the cultivation of this new article of home production; and we may anticipate the period when our Cambrian groves of lofty oak will become as celebrated for the nurture and protection they will be made to afford to this luxurious esculent, as they have formerly been famed in the olden time, from their having formed the living temples of the Druids.
One of the many advantages which the artificial culture of trufles must introduce into this country will be the extension of the spade husbandry, and the consequently more extended employment of the labouring poor. Not that we are not fully aware that the spade might, beneficially to the public, and profitably to the owners and occupiers of the soil, be substituted for the plough in the preparatory tillage for raising many articles of ordinary domestic consumption, such as the parsnip, the carrot, the potato, the rhubarb plant, and a long et cetera of culinary vegetables; perhaps, also for wheat itself, if, according to the system of Tull, * we are to believe that the more complete the communication of the soil, the proportionably greater will be the returns; so much so, as in many cases to dispense with the necessity for manure, and always to compensate the dif
* Tull's Horse-hoeing Husbandry.
ference of expense between the spade and the plough husbandry.*
Our German horticulturist begins with the natural history of the truffle, and a long enumeration of its culinary uses and dietetic virtues.
Whoever has acquired the least proficiency in gastronomy, which Voltaire calls “La Science de la Gueule,”and has had the good fortune to have dined at the Trois Frères Provencaux, in Paris, on a dinde truffée, or a perdrix truffée, or may have breakfasted on truffes au vin de Champagne, or even on an Andouillette truffée, will retain for the remainder of his days a grateful and indelible recollection of the exquisite relish of this delicious comestible, which is incomparable for its flavor, either when eaten alone, or as a condiment, or a farcie.
A French lyric writer thus apostrophizes the trufle in one of his best songs,
“ O Truffe ! chère aux gourmands." But, in our use of this precious tuber, we are centuries behindhand in civilization with the improved state of the gastronomic science in France. We never meet with trufles at our English tables in their fresh state. They are always dry and desiccated, and serve no other purpose than to impart a small portion of their sapidity to the stew or the ragout, to stimulate the palate. But in France, when the truffle is served up quite fresh, we have the more exquisite pleasure, the more solid satisfaction, of eating
• In the “ Philosophical Transactions,” vol. 58, there is a statement of Mr. C. Miller, of Cambridge, who sowed some wheat in June 1766, and in August a plant was taken up, and separated into eighteen parts, and replanted. These plants were again taken up, and divided in October following, and planted separately to stand the winter, which division produced sixty-seven plants. They were again taken up in March, and produced 500 plants. The number of ears thus formed from one grain of wheat was 21,109, which gave three pecks and three quarters of a peck of corn, weighing forty-seven lbs. seven oz., and estimated 591,000 grains ! This
year Mr. Lance, of Lewisham, has transplanted wheat, and in every instance the root transplanted is better than those remaining in the seed bed. He also divided a root in February, which then contained fourteen straws. It was separated into seven roots. They are now, June 16, 1832, in number 170 straws, and nearly all out in ear. Many of the ears are six inches long, and appear as if they would yield seventy grains in each ear. This would make 11,900 grains from one. There are many minor straws not taken into this account. Many of the transplanted roots contain forty and fifty straws, and are six feet high, with some ears that are seven inches long. The soil into which these roots were transplanted is an alluvial sand, which has had a top dressing of chalk. Transplanting offers employment for redundant labourers.
From the “ Mark-Lane Express" of Monday, June 25, 1832.
the root itself, of actually masticating it between the teeth in slow and silent ecstasy, which produces a prolongation of manducatory enjoyment beyond that of mere deglutition in a sauce. We were at first inclined to attribute this lamentable defect to our dreadful ignorance in the art of cookery, but we are now pursuaded it can only be ascribed to the difficulty, or rather the absolute impossibility, of procuring fresh truffles in England.
All the truffles used in this country are imported, at a great expense, from Italy and the south of France, and consequently are quite dried up, and resemble so many balls of old leather when they reach our kitchens. So rare, indeed, are fresh truffles in England, that the venerable father of British horticulture has assured us he never but once in his life tasted an English trufle freshly gathered, and that was at the sumptuous and scientific board of Mr. Coke, of Holkham.
A French gastronomer thus feelingly and eloquently describes the immense difference in the taste between fresh and dried truffles :
“ La différence entre des truffes bien múres, et fraîchement recueillies, et les truffes sechées, et trempées dans l'huile ou marinées et enfermées dans des bocaux, est énorme. Ces dernières que les Italiens nous vendent chèrement, sont autant inférieures aux premières, que des tranches de pommes desséchées le sont aux belles pommes du jardin du Roi à Fontainebleau recueillies de par nos propres mains.”
When the mode of raising truffles by artificial culture, of which we are now to speak, shall once be made known, let us hope that our tables will be plentifully supplied with a root which, when fresh, is deservedly esteemed as the very pride and essence of good cheer. There will even be something patriotic in the attempt to liberate this country from the heavy contributions levied
upon her in the purchase of this article from foreign nations, whose soil and climate are not more favorable to its cultivation than our own, under a proper system of management.
The truffle was formerly supposed to possess certain aphrodisiac qualities, but this idea seems to be entirely exploded, and it is now only valued as an esculent and a condiment. De Bornhobz considers it as the intermediary link in the chain which connects the vegetable and animal kingdoms together; every thing which relates to the natural history of this Lycoperdon is therefore extremely curious.
There are two species of esculent truffles, the white and the black; but each of them is known by the name of the True Trufie, Tuber Gulonem, Tuber Gulosorum, Lycoperdon Tuber, Truffe des Gourmands, or the Gormand's Truffle.
The white is by far the finest flavored, and therefore the most esteemed; but, as these only grow naturally in Upper Italy, and principally in Piedmont, it is difficult to keep them sufficiently fresh, during so long a journey, to transplant them into our English truffle-beds, we shall therefore confine ourselves to the black species, which may easily be procured from France, and indeed are indigenous in England.
The spots which truffles prefer are a rather light and moist soil, in the midst of woods, where the ground is clear of brush or underwood to admit a free circulation of air, but so shaded by tall oaks as to soften the immediate action of the burning rays of the sun, without entirely excluding its genial influence.
Whilst the truffle is yet young, it has somewhat of an earthy taste, or that of decayed leaves. It is only when it approaches maturity, and has nearly attained its full growth and ripeness, that it exhales that savoury and balsamic odour so peculiar to this root. But this scent only lasts for a few days, and as decay ensues, the odour becomes disagreeable, resembling that of staie urine; and, as the tuber rots and perishes, it finishes by becoming insupportable to our sense of smelling. It is from their peculiar odour that dogs, and even pigs, are taught on the continent to discover this tuber as it lies concealed in the ground. A good truffle dog always commands a high price; and the exclusive right of gathering truffles in a forest is often rented out for 300 or £400 a year, according to the extent of the wood, the fresh-gathered truffles selling on the spot from 2s. to 3s. the pound. The Perigord truffles are of a superior flavor to those of Burgundy, or indeed of any other part of France.
Those rather open spots in woods and forests which have been cleared of underwood, are very favorable to the growth of truffles under the shade of an oak, a beech, an old hawthorn, or even of an apple or pear tree, when the ground beneath is only covered with a thin brushwood, and not with a number of young trees which intercept the free circulation of the air. In such favorable places they are often found of the weight of a quarter of a pound, and sometimes of half a pound; but truffles of this extraordinary size are only met with in a warm and somewhat humid soil, except indeed in the neighbourhood of a spring of water, where they always thrive, and the tubers are then found near the surface, as they descend deeper into the earth, and dwindle in size in proportion as the soil is hard and dry.
Although the truffle will grow under the beech, the hawthorn, and some fruit trees, when the soil and site are otherwise favoryet
it is the shade of the vak for which it shews the most affection. It abhors every kind of the pine and fir tribe, and is rarely found in woods consisting of trees of different kinds.