Truffle hunting was a popular rural occupation in Britain in the 19th century. Truffles were most often found under the shade of beech and oak trees. Hunters dug down to a depth of around twelve inches, and then set their terrier dogs free to sniff the truffles out.
On the Continent trained pigs were often used instead of dogs. But the most experienced hunters and their young assistants could smell out truffles without the aid of ‘a brute companion’.
The truffle is a species of edible fungus, some about the size of a walnut. Coloured black or white, truffles have a rough, warty surface and a highly characteristic smell. The truffle was used by Victorian chefs to add flavour to sauces, but considered scarcely worth eating on its own. Most truffles were sent to Covent Garden market.
These days they have a variety of uses. White truffles cane be served raw when sprinkled over salads or fried eggs. They can be sliced and inserted into meat, tucked under the skins of roasted chickens, and used as an ingredient in pâtés.