HISTORICAL INFORMATION



Truffles are known since ancient
times. Many writers describe the interest that mankind has always shown for
these fungi. Athenaeus dedicates an entire chapter to the truffles but other
writers like Galenus, Dioscourides, Theophrastus, Plutarch, Pliny and Cicero
mention this mushrooms in their works. Theophrastus says that truffles growing
in Lesvos, Samos, Ileia and Thrace are known with different names. The first
written report about truffles takes place during the 4th century B.C.
During the classical period, Plutarch, Cicero and Dioscourides, trying
to explain the strange presence of truffles on the roots of the trees, they thought
they were the result of thunders reaching the earth. Anyhow, the truffles of
ancients Greeks have no relation with the actual botanical species of the
mushroom Hydnum of the Hydnaceae family, because the “hudnae” of our ancestors
belong, as we previously said, to the genera Tuber and Terfezia of the
Tuberaceae family, the exquisite mushrooms reknown worldwide for their
tastyfulness and their fine aroma. This is the reason why many writers and
poets praised them in their works. Plinius, for instance, condidered truflles
as “nature’s miracles”. Porfyrius  used
to call them ‘’children of the Gods” , Cicero ‘’daughters of the earth’’ and Nero
‘’food of the Gods’’. Apicius and Juvenalis were celebrating the virtues of
truffles and invented various culinary uses. 
Alexandre Dumas characterised them as ‘’the holiest ingredients of the
table” and the French used to call them ”the black diamonds of the kitchen”. In
Greece, truffles have always been highly praised as the old popular saying from
the Pelopenese confirms: “Undigable, unplantable... and noble
cooking”

 

Truffles like all the other mushrooms do not have blastic organs (roots,
seeds and buds).  Dioscourides and
Theofrastus, as botanologists provided a brief and accurate desciption of
truffles:‘’...They are round roots with no leaves, no bud, they have blondish
colour and they can be found in spring time, they are eatable either raw or
cooked”. Theophrastus says: “… truffles have no bud, no branch, no leaf, no
flower, no fruit, no peel, no wooden part, no fibres, and no vessels’’. Their
origin remained a mystery for a long time and the botanologists worked hard in
order to determine the real nature of these mushrooms. The apparent absence of
a reproductive organ was the main obstacle in order to explain they way they
reproduced and it was initially believed that they grow randomly in the soil.  Because generally mushroom seeds, unlike the
seeds of other plants, are tiny and cannot be spotted by a naked eye, their
existence was invisible before the invention of the microscope. And also,
because truffles have their own particular way of life.

So, Athenaeus was right to say that they were automatically created: ‘’ Truflles grow alone (without seeds) in
sandy places”. And Plutarch in “ the “Symposium” speaks arinically about the
idea of their automatic birth and the
theory that they were created by thunders. Of course, truffles, like the rest
of the myshrooms, multiply by seeds that are created in specific reproductory
organs and that spread in the soil thanks to natural factors like the air and
the water.  We are astonished even today
from the intelligence of the ancient Greeks, who, despite the limited
scientific knowldge of their time, they accurately observed that truffles are
originated from seeds, as it results form the following relevant passage
written by Theophrastus: “Some people believe that their origin is from seeds.
For istance, in the coastline of Lesvos there were no truffles before the heavy
rains brought the seed for the land of Tiares, a region were truffles grow
abundandly because truffles grow in regions where there is sand.”

 

It is estimated that there is about a hundred truffle species. Even though
many among them are similar to the reknown truflles, they are not all eatable
and harmless but none of them is leathal.

They all have white flesh, various tints, depending on the trees on  the roots of which they grow. We can
distinguish them macroscopically by their colour (white, blondish or black) and
the morphology of their skin ( smooth or hard. Also, depending on the season
during which they grow,  they can be
classified as winter or summer truffles.

From a commercial point of view, they are classified as white or black, and
the latter are the most reputated ones.


Pliny writes about the different categories of truffles:

‘’There are two kinds of truffles, one full of sand that hurts the teeth
and the other, which is sandless and totally clean. They can be distinguished
by their colour- redish, white or black -and the most reputated ones come from
Africa”.

In Greece and Cyprus the most common and reknown truffles, up to today, are
the following:

Tuber melanosporum , Tuber aestivum , Tuber cibarium  , Tuber magnatum , Terfezia leonis , Terfezia
leonis var. Majus, Terfezia Genadii , Terfezia leonis var.minor , Terfezia
Fanfani , Terfezia Claveryi , Terfezia Aphroditis.

Truffles grow in a depth of 10-30 cm and their size varies from the size of
a corn to that of a potato. Even though truffles weighting over a kilo have
been found, the average weight is approximately 
20-40 gr.

Plutarch reports that he had dinner in the region of Hleia, eating huge
truffles. 

They are rich in protein mushrooms and that is why they are considered as
“vegetal meat” with a delicious and aromatic flesh. They can be eaten raw,
cooked or conservated in a can with oil, vinagre, salt or dried. 

Dioscourides writes that truffles are collected during spring time and that
they can be eaten cooked or raw.

In some passages of Theophrastus, that have been rescued by Athenaeus in “Deipnosophists”,
he reports that they are tastfull and they smell like meat and that they
“become hard during the automn rains and mainly by the thunders which are
probably the reason that makes them hard”. 

In the same work, Difullus characterizes truffles difficult to digest but
at the same time delicious.

Truffles have been always recommended as an aphrodisiac. In some places in
the Tchech Republic, the popular name of truffles is “ lamp’s fries’’. Some other
species of elaphomyces, another truffle variety, used to be sold in Europe in
the past as aphrodiasiac by the herb merchands who beleived that it was growing
in regions were the deers were fornicating.

Simon Sith indicates the way truffles were cooked: ‘’Truffles should be
washed well with clear water, salt and oreganon, and after been baked they should
be eaten with oil and pepper.

As truffles don’t have above-ground organs, it is very difficult to find
them in nature and the majority of times this happens randomly. In order to
determine the locations where they grow, different indications are used as for
example, the specific trees of the region, the total lack of grass, swarms of
yellow flies flying in low altitud over the truffle areas, the light elevation
of the soill and the clefts of the ground under which this mushroom grows.

But the most remarkable of all is that when truffles mature, they emanate
an intense smell that can be detected from a long distance by some animals like
pigs, squirrels, deers, dogs and bears.

This is the reason why, from the ealry years up to today, trained dogs or
pigs are used for truffle hunting.

The reputation of truffles as a savoury food and its great demand have
always been provoking an increasing interest for cultivation.  

Pythagora and Galenus  2500 years ago
strongly believed that they can be artificially cultivated.

But domesticating truffles is a very hard task. Beacuse they are
heterotroph organisms and they have a particular way of coexistencing with
other plants .

It has been noticed that truffles grow in the roots of approximately 50
kinds of trees like oaks (Quercus sp.), poplars (Populus sp.), lindens (Tilla
sp.), willows (Salix sp.), hazels (Corylus sp.), chestnuts (Castanea sp.) etc.
They increase the absorbing surface of the roots from where they recieve the
necessary substances in order to survive. Thus, both of the collaborating
parties benefit.

So, Pliny was right when he was wondering “how a truffle can grow and live
without roots”.

For the Romans, truffles were a
familiar food . They were importing white Terfezia truflles that grow in the
desert from Libya in sealed recipients filled up with sand.

Gauls considered truffles as an
excellent food. The oak was a sacred tree and the truffles growing on its
“feet” were considered as a gift from the skies.