Monday 11 July 2011

The Demise (and Rise) of British Truffles

British Truffles

It's little known today, but the rather unassuming British Summer truffle, Tuber aestivum was once the centre of a major industry.

This is a black truffle, about the size of a squash ball that's native to Europe. Though it's not as strongly flavoured as the more famous Perigord truffle, it is still flavoursome and is widely hunted for in France and Italy. Indeed, during the Victorian period it was much gathered and during its fruiting period (May to August in the UK) it was much gathered and hundreds of kg were collected for sale in major markets.

This is why Victorian chefs such as Charles Elmé Francatelli were so liberal in the use of truffles in their recipes. An example of this being Francatelli's recipe for d'Uxelles Sauce:


Chop fine the following ingredients in equal proportions, according to the quality of sauce required for present use: viz.—mushrooms, truffles, ham, parsley, and shalots; put these into a small stewpan with an ounce of scraped fat bacon, and stir the whole over the fire for six minutes; then add about half a pint of sauce, the juice of half a lemon, nutmeg, pepper, and salt, a good pinch of sugar, and four yolks of eggs; stir again over the fire to set the eggs, and use the d'Uxelles as herein directed.

Blow is a Modern Redaction of this recipe:

Francatelli's d'Uxelles Sauce

60g mushrooms, finely chopped
2 truffles, finely chopped
60g ham, finely chopped
4 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
60g shallots, finely chopped
45g bacon fat
300ml brown sauce
juice of 1/2 lemon
generous pinch of sugar
salt, freshly-ground black pepper and freshly-grated nutmeg, to taste
4 egg yolks


Melt the bacon in a pan, add the mushrooms, ham, parsley and shallots. Fry gently for about six minutes, or until lightly browned then add the sauce, lemon juice, sugar and seasonings. Bring to a simmer then take off the heat.

Beat the egg yolks in a bowl and, whilst whisking constantly, add the add about a ladle of the sauce to temper the eggs. Pour the tempered egg mix back into the pan and whisk to combine. Set over low heat and continue to cook until thickened. Take off the heat and serve immediately.

Over 60 years ago, the British truffle industry died out and interest in British truffles withered away. However, with summer truffles retailing for £120 per kg there is now renewed interest in this fungus and truffle hunting dogs are being imported from Perigord and Italy to hunt these black gems.

Indeed, recent dry summers seem to have been beneficial for Summer Truffles and some dedicuous forests (those with alkaline soils on a bed of chalk and a preponderance of beech) are generating hundreds of kilograms of these fungi, generating renewed interest in these native culinary delights.

If you would like more information about edible mushrooms, then check out the Celtnet Edible Mushroom Guide.

For all the wild food recipes on this blog, see the wild food recipes page.

UPDATE! The complete text of Francatelli's Cook's Guide has been edited and published!

This recipe and over 1000 other recipes published in Francatelli's 1661 'The Cook's Guide and Housekeeper's and Butler's Assistant' has been published in eBook format. The complete text and all images from Francatelli's book has been re-edited and made available with an introduction and new biography. You also get essential Victorian recipes for basic pastries and store sauces that are needed to re-create Francatelli's recipes but which Francatelli himself did not publish.

In addition over 100 of Francatelli's recipes, including all the Reform Club recipes have been redacted and published as a separate chapter so that a modern cook can copy them. Using these recipes and the additional Victorian recipes provided you can re-create all of Francatelli's dishes from scratch.

So why not re-create a Victorian dinner party, or a Victorian Christmas meal as described by Francatelli himself in his Bills of Fare? Learn why Francatelli is one of the most well respected of the Victorian cookery writers and get a copy of his book for yourself today.

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