Shopping News: A Mushrooming Interest

TAKE a trip to the New Forest this weekend and you will see scores of eager mushroom-pickers, bent double in their efforts to locate a tasty cep, Shaggy Parasol or Horn of Plenty. This month is the peak of the mushroom season - and with more rainfall than usual this autumn, enthusiasts expect a bumper crop.

Nature attempts to foil mushroom pickers by creating them in identical- seeming pairs, one of which is edible, the other not. The Fairy Ring Champignon looks alarmingly like the deadly Clitocybe rivulosa, and the False Chanterelle could give foodies a hallucinogenic shock.

It's hardly surprising, then, that most people find safety in numbers. A fungal foray with an expert means you learn as you go (mostly on all fours) and benefit from multiple pairs of eyes scouring the undergrowth. For ordinary folk, the Field Studies Council (tel: 0743-850674), an educational charity with branches throughout the country, runs 'Fungi for Beginners' weekend courses. The Harrods Gourmet Club (tel: 071- 235 5852) also holds an annual feast and foray - a pricier affair which begins today.

The British Mycological Society takes a dim view of all these mushroom hunters bent on fricasseeing everything they find. They, too, are having a foray today in Windsor Great Park, assembling the fruits of their labours at Royal Holloway College, Egham, for labelling and general admiration. In essence a scholarly exercise, the hunt is usually infiltrated by gourmets on the trail of ever more esoteric fungal delights.

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