One of the things I love most about this blog is that I truly never know where conversations I have with people will lead. There I was talking to Solange about volunteering to dig up parts of Greenwich Park to find Tudors, and as a by-the-by she starts telling me about the Greenwich lady who has made the culinary equivalent of a gold strike in her back garden – truffles.
I didn’t know that truffles were native to England, but apparently the Summer Truffle is – and although milder in flavour to the prized Winter Truffle, can still pack a punch in a dish.
The lady (sadly anonymous) contacted Dr. Paul Thomas, a truffle expert, when she saw a squirrel digging furiously in one spot in the garden, chased it off and then had a good look at the ‘knobbly black thing, like tree bark’ that the varmint had dropped. Apparently she’d heard Dr. Paul talking on R4 about truffles, and wondered – could it, could it possibly be..?
The traditional way of finding truffles is by pig, but Dr. Paul, probably given the peripatetic nature of his work, has chosen to use dogs, who are just as keen sniffers (though it does look as though the Greenwich squirrels could give his best friend Chester the Truffle Hound a run for his money…) He’ll even train your own mutt to find the funny little funghi if you’re stuck for a Christmas present for the dog that has everything.
But I digress. Dr. Paul and Chester hot-footed and hot-pawed it over to Greenwich, where, of course, the squirrels had already scraped the cupboard bare (we breed a better class of squirrels in Greenwich – not content with boring old acorns), but Dr. P took samples of the knobbly black thing Tufty had dropped , and the tree and soil that Chester chose.
The lab confirmed that it was indeed a Summer Truffle, but how it got there is anyone’s guess. Truffles need host trees, apparently, and although several varieties of tree will host the spores, they do need to be there in the first place. This particular tree was an evergreen oak and its roots were covered in spores (native British oaks and hazels will also happily host truffles) but no one knows how they got there. I guess it could be the first instance of a squirrel gardener, planting the remains of someone’s lunch (must be West Greenwich…) or it could be a specially seeded Truffle Tree, planted by a former resident.
Of course I was very interested – and it’s certainly worth taking a peek around your roots if you’re the lucky owner of a garden large enough to have oaks and hazels in it. If you do find anything, put a wire cage over the area to protect the squirrels, who have apparently developed quite a palate.
If you don’t find anything, you can grow your own – Dr Paul sells trees he’s specially seeded.If your garden’s small, choose the hazel, and keep it pruned. Sadly truffle trees aren’t wildly happy in pots. Greenwich’s soil must be just right for the cultivation of the things. Most of us are on Thanet Sand - I’m not sure what the acidity is, but truffles need a PH of between 7.3 and 7.8. – Dr Paul tells me you can adjust your soil by digging in lime.
Dr Paul Thomas’s latest venture is truffle vodka, an intriguing idea. I haven’t actually been to the website as it requires DOB and I don’t do personal details but Solange has tried the stuff and reviewed it here.
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