Down Memory Lane: New Forest Fungi Forage

If you go down to the woods today… Susan Campbell remembers

‘The first New Forest Fungi Forage for the Guild of Food Writers was on 14 September 1993; the last was on 24 October 2001, and they happened every autumn in between. My diaries say nothing about these occasions except for the first: Brockenhurst Station 10.00. This meant an early start for the Londoners; 8.35 at Waterloo.

‘Instructions were to bring suitable mushroom-collecting baskets and small sharp knives. I hadn’t thought it necessary to add sensible clothing until, on one occasion, a fashionista turned up in high heels. My main worries were people getting lost, getting stuck in bogs or being bitten by adders, but luckily none of these disasters ever occurred.

‘The train would be met by the foragers’ guides for the day; Alexander Aitken, his wife Caroline, my son William, and me. Alexander was the self-taught chef-proprietor of a Le Poussin, a restaurant in Brockenhurst, which was to become Michelin-starred in 1995. William, then in his early thirties, was rather good-looking and working part-time in TV. The foragers would choose their guides, we’d pile into cars, and off we’d go. There was always a surfeit of ladies who wanted to go with William.

‘The plan was to begin the day in the Forest with a short demonstration of which fungi were safe to eat (and there are at least a dozen varieties), then spend the morning looking for them. We had sussed out the best spots, days beforehand, hoping that no one would get there before us. The hoped-for rewards would be at least enough fungi that you had picked yourself to take home; the certain reward was a magnificent fungi-based lunch at Le Poussin.

‘These events ended, sadly and in spite of our objections, when the Forest authorities declared fungi foraging was ‘theft’. No one has ever been taken to court, and somehow we still go on “stealing” them. But I wouldn’t like to have been caught red-handed with a bunch of GFW rustlers.’

Standing from left to right: Karin Perry, Orla Broderick, Kate Whiteman, Merrilees Parker, Carole Handslip, Charles Campion, Wendy Godfrey, William Campbell, Manisha Gambhir Harkins and George Theo
Kneeling from left to right: Susan Campbell, Elaine Hallgarten and Caroline Conran


Does this stir up any Guild memories for you? Our editor welcomes all contributions, and if by any miracle you have pictures, so much the better. After writing the above – and finding a cache of photographs – Susan has this advice for all Guild members: NEVER THROW ANYTHING AWAY, BUT IF YOU ARE GOING TO KEEP IT, LABEL IT.