June 15th – The Grand Midsummer Truffle Hunt

It isn’t like modern Buentoillitants to fight; yes, in times past violence was commonplace on the streets of the City, but nowadays folk are much less prone to anger. There is, however, one thing that will spark a fight between even the fastest of Buentoillitant friends; midsummer truffles. Once upon a time there were riots, even killings, over access to these wondrous fruit of the earth, but today bloodshed should hopefully be avoided by the regulations which have been in place since 1933.

Last night it rained a lot. A storm brought about by a long-enduring area of high pressure over the Buentoille bay area. Thick raindrops soaked the fields and forests, they ran off the City streets and into the parks. Anyone going out for a walk this morning will come back with sodden boots. Inside, safe under their roofs, the people of Buentoille listened to the rain with a sense of calm and a certain romance, and then, when it was clear that the rain wasn’t going to let up, and the lightning bolts flashed across the dark sky, with a sense of excitement; they knew that today the truffles would be emerging.

It almost invariably rains like this at some point around the summer solstice, and when it does the truffles, for some reason, pop up out of the ground, as if they had been pushed up by the tree roots. It is immediately obvious when one strays into truffle territory on a day like today; the aroma is overwhelming, a mixed in with all the other earthy smells kicked up by the cascade of water the previous night. Nobody has quite worked out the action by which the midsummer truffle accomplishes this feat, or why they presumably find it beneficial to all reveal their fruiting bodies at once, although scientists point out that it is not, as is asserted in much of the folklore surrounding the fungus, because they are actually a small mole-like animal which burrows to the surface and then dies, as a fish would out of water.

The scent and taste of midsummer truffles is legendary, and extremely difficult to describe. Many allude to ‘earthy’ and ‘garlicky’ scents, although for others this is far off the mark, comparing them to sweet pea or jasmine, yet somehow more intensely sweet with a deep, musky undertone. Whatever the exact make-up of the aroma, both humans and animals are quite besotted with it, far more so than with other, less tasty and more difficult to procure varieties of truffle. The subterranean mushroom is known for its aphrodisiac qualities, presumably a consequence of the high levels of human and animal pheromones it contains. Us humans have to be quick to get to the truffles when they come up for air, else they are eaten by the other denizens of the forest; this is one of the primary reasons for the existence of the Midsummer Patrol.

As with most other valuable natural commodities, the midsummer truffle was, in monarchist times, exclusively the property of the monarch, who would distribute them amongst their courtiers as tokens of favour, or eat them all in a large banquet. King Ernest the Common once presided over an expectedly large bounty of the fungi, and accordingly invited a larger-than-normal selection of guests, including some well-to-do merchants and other upper-middle class folks, an unprecedented move which earned him his moniker, though he was referred to as ‘the Charitable’ or ‘the Philanthropic’ as a way of alluding to this when he was in the room. In Tremain’s Lineage and Deeds of the Great Buentoillitant Kings a large amount of space is given to the power dynamic arising from this decision of banquet guests, a great deal more than the ‘horyyd stampyyd’ that killed over 200 Buentoillitants attempting to gain access to the palace, caused by rumours that the king was giving out midsummer truffles to the people.

Thousands of Buentoillitants have been killed over the years by disputes arising from truffle ownership. Most of these were executions of truffle ‘poachers’ who attempted to take their own share of the midsummer truffle harvest, an act considered tantamount to treason. At one point in the seventeenth century there were gangs of Buentoillitants who would conduct pitched battles with royal truffle officials and their guards in an attempt to gain access to the prized mushrooms, but eventually they were all killed or driven off the idea after several failed raids. The Traitor King successfully used the truffle emergence to lure and kill fifteen rebels who were hiding in the woods, and like many other kings was said to ‘eat himself into a violent, lustful frenzy,’ in the throes of which he once murdered a courtesan with his own hands.

Even after the Revolution, in the kinder, more communal atmosphere it brought to Buentoille, there was a yearly brawl which took place in the woods, rival gangs and individuals trying to procure the largest possible portion of the bounty for themselves, now they were no longer forbidden to do so by law. The scenes became slowly more violent year after year, as two gangs consolidated their share of the harvest, and had essentially begun an arms race. By 1933 the harvest was generally considered a disgrace, a blight on the face of the Revolution, and something had to be done. Previously it was considered somehow ‘monarchist’ to regulate access to the fungi, but once people started getting killed over them the tone changed.

The Midsummer Patrol was formed in 1933, a group of heavily armed guards voted in each year and tasked with protecting and overseeing similarly democratically elected pickers. The Patrol was in turn overlooked by the people of Buentoille, their names being made publicly available and the positions only valid for the day, to avoid foul play. The Patrol and harvesters go out into the forests as soon as the rains end, where they wait for the truffles to emerge. Each district has a proportional number of pickers, and all the midsummer truffles they gather are brought to a hall in their district, where a great feast is cooked for most of the City’s population, a few gratings of the heavenly fungus being carefully placed atop the pasta, risotto or other specially-designed meal served to each person in attendance.

Every part of the process is subject to intense public scrutiny to avoid unfair pilfering, to the extent that it is a common joke that the only thing more highly scrutinised than voting in Buentoille is midsummer truffles. It is important that the truffles are all eaten today as they lose their beatific flavour very rapidly after they emerge from the soil around the tree roots of Hope’s End forest, the only place on the earth they are known to be found. There is a general sense of healthy competition between the districts as to who can put on the best feast, but there is little way of comparing them; to avoid attempts to eat in several different districts the meals are set at an agreed time, soon after harvest to minimise flavour loss. Be at a district hall at 11am today if you want to experience the heavenly taste yourself.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Stone Lanterns
  • The Festival of Prehistoric Beasts
  • Diving Day