Truffling With Francis
Francis Bacon is the most successful Christmas present I have ever given my husband. She is our beloved potbellied pig. She arrived seven years ago when she was 6 weeks old, the runt of the litter. She is greedy, grumpy, deaf and has 10 percent of her sight — defects from birth. We communicate with sign language. Her two tricks are sitting and spinning on command.
We all love Francis, but her relationship to my husband John is exceptionally close. She waits by the door for him to return from work. When he is not home, she searches the house for anything he has worn or touched and drags it into her bed, blissfully sleeping on it, rather like a child with a favorite blanket. His nasty sweaty tennis clothes, brought home in a bag from a weekend match, are her favorite. She lies on his feet wherever he sits and is fiercely protective of his chair in the kitchen, charging any person who unwittingly sits on it. Her attack is premeditated and startlingly swift. She cannot bite, however, since her snout is in the way of her teeth.
My husband, in return for this loyalty, tucks her into bed at night. He lies by her side, rubs her belly and sings “Taxi” into her deaf ear. Francis blissfully stretches out, exposing her large pink belly, and every now and then makes a satisfied grunt. “Sweetie, I got an ‘oink!’ ” he jubilantly yells to me from the closet, which Francis has chosen to be her bedroom. “Hurrah,” I reply, but grudgingly think aloud, “Maybe if I got such affection from you at bedtime, you might get an ‘oink’ out of me!”
It occurred to me recently that Francis might actually have some use to me besides defending kitchen chairs and distracting my husband.
At The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills recently, I bought a beautiful white truffle for a friend as a thank-you gift. I asked Norbert, the proprietor, whether he thought Francis could find a truffle if I buried it in the garden. This led to a lengthy discussion about pigs and truffles after which he very kindly gave me a rather large black truffle to take home as an experiment.
(Worried that Francis would gobble up the whole fungus and leave me with none, I first cut it in half.)
Francis was sleeping soundly in her bed when I approached, truffle in hand. I was at least five feet away when her nose began to wiggle. Then her eyes opened and she scrambled to her feet. “Wait,” I told her — irrelevant, as she can neither hear nor understand English. So I rushed out to the garden, aware she was following me. Her trotters not being very swift, I remained easily ahead.
As I mentioned earlier, she is almost completely blind, and she couldn’t see me as she emerged from the house. She would have to sniff out the truffle. I quickly buried it in the yard, and she went straight for it, tail wagging. I swear she was smiling. She foraged through the soil with her excellent sense of smell and found it immediately. She took a few good sniffs, a small bite and grumpily walked away.
I rewarded her excellent work with a nice big apple. (The sight of that always amuses me — a pig with an apple in its mouth looks like a distant relative of hers in the window of a butcher’s shop.) She gobbled it up with gratitude, and I now have a happy pig and a near-whole beautiful black truffle that I shall shave over my supper tonight.
Lucy Dahl is an author and screenwriter in Los Angeles.
Photos by Lucy Dahl