Sunday, October 7, 2012

The palate as a growing region

    part of an

.. we had dined marvelously well
on a pâté de foie gras en brioche
among other things, and now we sat
complacently at our ease.
Buô Dinh crouched behind a huge cigar and fingered a jade bead in his pocket. Al and I shared a glass of Alsatian quetschwasser, harsh and clear. Franz Mayen, very sar-
donic and entertaining, peered at us and talked ceaselessly as always.
"Yes," he was saying, "I have seen the last virgin woman truffle hunter in all France! I am probably -no, certainly- unique, for I was but five or six when it happened, and a little boy among old men. It was a secret hunt - "

"By moonlight, of course?" one of us enquired, smoothly.

"Ah, no!" Mayen was unruffled as a bowl of cream. 

"Naturally it was held in the white sunlight of the south - a Van Gogh sun, a French Midi sun. And we had gathered secretly because the Church was opposed to women truffle hunters. The idea of an old virgin sniffing over the hills, with a pack of men hot at her heels - it is disgusting to the Church, it is - you understand me? - pagan!"

"So this was to be the last hunt, with the only woman left alive who had the truffle nose. She was old, very old, and she was - yes, unquestionably - she was a virgin! And, mon Dieu, mon Dieu, but what a nose! It was long, most pointed, red at the tip. It quivered.

We started off at a hill far from the church, I lagging behind on my little legs, but very curious. We walked until I was panting. The old maid went ahead. Finally she stopped. She lifted her formidable nose, red and quivering, into the hot air. We all watched."

"Then she was off, and it was hard to follow her, I can tell you. She ran like a demented soul straight through the underbrush, over ditches, up a steep hill. There she stopped, in a barren clearing around an old oak tree. She pointed to the ground at her feet. The men dug with their blunt forks. Sure enough, truffles!"

"She started away, stopped suddenly, and pointed down. More truffles! And all the time she was trembling and sniffing like a sick dog. Finally she stood still, and her nose grew pale. She stopped shivering, and looked very old and weary. The hunt was over. When we got home, the best truffles were sent to Lyons, and the rest we chopped up and cooked with eggs into a kind of omelette."

Mayen pulled at his cigarette, and added disgustedly: "Of course it is too bad! My one chance to eat enough truffles to see if they really are exciting - and I was only six!"

M.F.K. Fisher
Serve it Forth
  I arise resigned
North Point Press
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989©


  1. Replies
    1. Nice of you to visit and sweet of you to say. I was fortunate to have met this writer in her later life in California, and share with everyone an admiration for her humour and wisdom. But admiration is more diffuse than specific, as you know, and a pleasure. She gave people this pleasure.