Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Fungus firsts and morel dilemmas

The Guardian

Mrs Tee-Hillman in wrong in thinking she was the first to sell wild mushrooms to London restaurants (Fifty kilos of pied de mouton in three hours: UK's top mushroomer is back in business, November 25). My Russian father was gathering fungi in the woods around London from the 1920s onwards. During the 50s and 60s my family would collect and dispatch hamperfuls of morels every spring.
I still have a carbon copy of our invoice, dated May 28 1963, to the Mirabelle Restaurant in Curzon Street for their month's total purchase of 28 pounds of morels at 27 shillings and sixpence (£1.37) per pound. Carriage, by train, was charged extra, although I remember delivering them at the kitchen entrance behind the restaurant, too. We also sold chanterelles and other freshly gathered fungi to Palm's delicatessen in Oxford market.
My father would be highly amused at the popularity of wild mushrooms today, although he would not have welcomed the competition. Mostly we picked to eat and not for profit, but selling the excess brought a welcome bonus.
Natasha de Chroustchoff
Fishguard, Pembrokeshire

£3,000 per daily delivery of mushrooms/fungi to London? Not bad for someone who pays nothing for the upkeep of the land from which she harvests them. I wonder how much she pays her "mostly young Pole" pickers? Probably not nearly enough for getting them to break the Wild Mushroom Picker's Code and open themselves to legal action. I wonder if any of them have a partner who is in the legal profession.
Peter J Berry


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