This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
The Truffle (Tuber Cibarium) is an edible tuber, of subterranean growth, found in the earth, especially beneath beech trees, and uprooted by dogs trained for the purpose; "the tubers have a heavy, rank, hercline smell, are of a chestnut colour, and are discovered not seldom in England." The most famous field for the production of Truffles is the old Province of Perigord in France, these having a dark skin, and smelling of violets. Piedmontese Truffles suggest garlic; those of Burgundy are a little resinous; the Neapolitan specimens are redolent of sulphur; and in the Gard department (France) they have an odour of musk. When once dug up Truffles soon lose their perfume, and aroma; therefore they are imported bedded in the very earth which produced them. At the sight of Truffles, or even the hearing their name, a proper French gastronomer is expected to go into ecstasies of delight, and admiration; he knows them as the sacrum sacrorum of epicures, the diamonds of the kitchen, and by other hyperbolical names. According to Dumas, the Truffle says, "Eat me, and adore God." The author of the Physiology of Taste ascribes to these tubers such effects as that "they awaken amatory recollections, and, without being positively sexual excitants, they will under certain conditions make women more loving, and men more amiable." Besides the fragrant principles which distinguish its several kinds, the Truffle contains cellulose, glucose, pectose, gum, and water; in its ash phosphoric acid, and potash prevail, whilst a very little sulphuric acid may also be detected.
The name "Truffle" is derived from the Italian "Tartufolo," signifying he who hides, or disguises himself. Truffles are in season from November to March. They are found under oak trees, the range of their area for growth being strictly limited to the area covered by the branches.
Two French epicures, not being satisfied with the flavour given to the turkey by its stuffing of Truffles for the table, determined to try whether this Truffle flavour might not be imparted to the bird by a suitable system of diet. They selected a fat young turkey, and fed it for two months with the most exquisite Truffles that the South of France could produce; and the turkey seemed to enjoy the experiment. At the end of two months the bird was killed, roasted with delicate care, and brought upon the table. Each of the experimenters eagerly took a wing, and found to his disappointment that the turkey had absolutely no Truffle flavour whatever. It was thus proved that a diet of volatile fragrance does not impart its special flavours to an animal kept living on such diet for a length of time. Evelyn, in his Diary (September 30th, 1644), wrote about "a dish of Trufles, which is a certaine earth-nut found out by an hogg train'd to it, and for which these animals are sold at a greate price." Samuel Boyse (whose poem on the Deity is quoted with high praise by Feilding) was an improvident writer always in want of money. Dr. Johnson generously exerted himself to collect by sixpences a sufficient sum for getting Boyse's clothes out of pawn.
But two days afterwards Boyse had spent this money in some self-indulgence, and was found in bed, covered only with a blanket, through two holes in which blanket he passed his arms so as to write. It appears that when thus impoverished he would lay out his last half-guinea to buy Truffles, and mushrooms, for eating with his scrap-end of beef.