Pecans truffles growing in status with Southern gourmets

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They may not have the allure of white truffles found in northern Italy, but pecan truffles are growing in popularity among Southern US gastronomes.

Pecan truffles, first discovered in the 1980s, are a growing commodity in Georgia, and they’re catching on with gourmets, who are increasingly experimenting with them.

Dr. Tim Brenneman, a University of Georgia plant pathologist, has researched pecan truffles since he discovered them in the mid 1980s. His research involves inoculating trees with the fungus responsible for truffles, according to Southeast Farm Press.

“Right now, the main limitation for truffles is lack of consistent availability,” Brenneman said. “They’re underground; they’re hard to find. We’re doing research on producing truffles more consistently by inoculating trees with the fungus, and then, when you plant the trees, it may take a while, but they will eventually start growing truffles on their roots.”

While white truffles sell for as much as $1,200 a pound wholesale, pecan truffles are a little more affordable, going for between $200 and $300 a pound, according to Southeast Farm Press.

As an ectomycorrhizal fungi, truffles are often found near tree roots.

Pecan truffles vary in color from light to dark brown, and range in size from a small ball bearing up to a golf ball, with some occasionally larger. Most will have lobes and irregularities, and have a conspicuously “marbled” appearance with alternating streaks of brown and white.

The hard part, as with more expensive varieties, is locating the esteemed fungi. Now, just as in Europe, individuals are turning to truffle dogs.

“In the past, nearly all of the truffles we had in Georgia were just found by people going out with rakes during late summer at pecan harvest, when the truffles were being exposed, and picking them up,” Brenneman said. “Having dogs that are specifically trained for these truffles really helps find the truffles. It also improves the quality of truffles found because they’re locating the mature truffles. The dogs just go to the ones that have the strongest odor, and those are the most mature truffles and most desired by the chefs using them.”

There is high demand for truffles, especially from chefs, but there are only a few people marketing truffles and not a large supply.

Brenneman first discovered pecan truffles in the soil around pecan trees in commercial orchards in south Georgia. It also has been found in Texas and Florida.

It thrives in some pecan orchards and, in favorable years, can be found readily. Some growers report sweeping them up with the pecans at harvest, only to separate them out with sticks, rocks and other debris, and disposing of them.

Brenneman noted that it is very different from renowned white and black truffles, found primarily in Europe. The pecan truffles is a unique fungus with a flavor and texture all its own.

(Top: Pecan truffles shown amid pecans in a south Georgia orchard. Photo credit: Dr. Tim Brenneman.)

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Former Egyptian royal diamonds to be auctioned in NY

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Among Christmas gifts Mrs. Cotton Boll should not expect under the Christmas tree this year is an Art Deco diamond necklace that once belonged to Queen Nazli of Egypt.

The jewels, made in 1939 by Van Cleef & Arpels, will be auctioned next week by Sotheby’s. Set with 217 carats in a sunburst motif, the necklace has been tagged with a pre-auction estimate of $3.6 million to $4.6 million.

Queen Nazli, once married to King Faud, who had died in 1936, and mother of King Farouk, commissioned the diamond necklace and a matching tiara of 274 carats for the wedding ceremony of her daughter, Princess Fawzia, to the Crown Prince of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the future shah, in March 1939.

The ensuing wedding banquet has been described as the most lavish event to ever take place in modern Egypt, and Queen Nazli attended practically covered in diamonds.

However, all did not end well for many of the above individuals.

In 1950, Farouk stripped his mother of her rights and titles after his sister, Princess Fathia, went against the king’s wishes and married Riyad Ghali Effendi, a Coptic Christian, despite the fact that the latter had converted to Islam.

Nazli had left Egypt in 1946 and moved to California because of health problems, but Farouk banished her and Fathia from Egypt, and they would spend the rest of their lives in the United States.

Nazli continued to enjoy an extravagant lifestyle and in 1975 sold the Van Cleef & Arpels diamond necklace and tiara at a New York auction. The pair fetched $267,500, according to the website Jewels du Jour.

However, the former Egyptian royals apparently continued to live high on the hog. The following year, less than a year after the auction, Nazli and Fathia appeared in a Los Angeles bankruptcy court. They hoped that Nazli’s diamonds and rubies would bring $500,000, and the money could be used to settle their debts but bids only reached $180,000. However, the court rejected the offer, instead granting permission for a private sale of the jewels.

Three months later, Fathia was killed by her ex-husband, who then shot himself in the head but survived. Queen Nazli died in 1978 after suffering from years of painful arthritis.

Farouk was overthrown in the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 and forced to abdicate in favor of his infant son Ahmed Fuad, who succeeded him as Fuad II of Egypt. Farouk died in exile in Italy in 1965.

Faud II, born in January 1952, formally reigned as the last King of Egypt from July 1952 to June 1953 before the monarchy was abolished. He is still alive and lives in Europe.

The marriage of Fawzia and the future Shah of Iran did not go swimmingly, either. Queen Fawzia left Iran and moved back to Cairo in 1945, where she obtained an Egyptian divorce. She remarried four years later and lived until 2013.

Mohammad Reza’s reign as Shah of Iran ended in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution. He died in Egypt in 1980 at age 60.

(Top: Queen Nazli of Egypt wearing Van Cleef & Arpels’ necklace and tiara on the occasion of her daughter Princess Fawzia’s wedding to the future Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi. The necklace will be auctioned by Sotheby’s on December 9 in New York.)

I’ll have the free lunch – as long as he’s paying for it

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Here’s an unsurprising bit of news out of our nation’s capital:

An overwhelming majority of Washington, D.C., residents support a proposal before the District Council to give each worker in the city 16 weeks of paid time off to care for a newborn or for a dying family member, according to the Washington Post.

The predictable part is that more than half of those polled also say they don’t want workers themselves to have to pay for the largesse.

Sorry, guys (and gals), but as Milton Friedman stated ever so eloquently, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Someone somewhere is going to have to pick up the tab.

If you understand and accept that you’re going to pay one way or the other, that’s fine. But if you expect others to willingly pony up, or that benefits will flow like manna from heaven, you’ve got another thing coming.

The last time I looked the District of Columbia doesn’t have its own printing presses with which to churn out money, so D.C. would have to raise taxes and/or cut employees to pay for such a benefit.

Understand, that’s not a judgment on whether the benefit is worth the cost, but a simple matter of fact. If workers are going to be allowed 16 weeks of paid time off to care for newborns or dying family members, the district will need funds to oblige.

Those pushing for the minimum wage to be increased to $15 an hour need to recognize this reality, as well. Over the course of a year, a full-time worker making $15 an hour would earn a little more than $32,000. That’s all well and good but, again, that money has to come from somewhere.

As the alchemists of old discovered, you can’t get something for nothing. There is a cost to every benefit, even if that cost is hidden. To pretend otherwise is to be foolish, disingenuous or willingly naïve.