‘It’s that time of year when every Market business should be buying-in product for the New Year. All successful retailers rely on their Buyers to source new product and ‘refresh their offer’ on a regular basis and that means up to 12 months in advance. Identifying new lines is more important than ever nowadays whilst the wholesale industry continues to shrink as Supermarket Buyers bypass it and source product direct from the producers. Short shelf-life products to which you can add value by processing are less problematical than products where you’re reliant on what the wholesaler has in stock. Nowadays it is becoming more and more difficult to differentiate yourself from the competition and maintain a margin over the bulk discounters. Some new thinking may be overdue.

How about a romantic weekend break to visit some European Markets? There are excellent value Citybreak deals on offer from Easyjet and Wizzair to places like Krakow, Budapest and Barcelona. Take a long weekend to see what their Markets are selling and talk to the Traders. They almost always speak English and have a keen interest in what’s happening in the UK. Maybe you fancy opening a Polski Sklep or stocking-up with the seasonal goods seen on Budapest’s Christmas Market on Vorosmarty Square. Sourcing from abroad can still be profitable from countries like Poland and Hungary which have had the good sense to remain outside the Euro. My favourite is Budapest whose Central Market Hall offers a wonderful range of handicrafts, clothing and food all year round. It’s big and busy and at this time of year you can buy a live Carp to keep in your bath and fattenup for Christmas, or a bushel of locally-picked wild mushrooms.

Foraging for wild mushrooms in the Autumn is a popular tradition in Central Europe – a bit like Elvering in Gloucestershire. But whether it’s Hungary or England you need proper instruction to identify the species before you wolf them down. Otherwise when you go down to the woods today you might have a very VERY big surprise. Ask Nicholas Evans, the best-selling author of ‘The Horse Whisperer’ who ended up having a kidney transplant and putting several members of his family on kidney dialysis. There’s not mushroom for mistakes. There are some 2000 species of mushroom in the UK of which 200 are delicious, 300 are very VERY bad for you while Scientists admit 1500 are ‘don’t knows’. Information is available at various sites like www.foragingguide.com and www.rogersmushrooms.com but they have VERY big disclaimers and recommend you always put an uncooked sample to one side to help your hospital diagnose the problem. As the trend for organic, homegrown food has caught on many people have started foraging in their local woods for edible varieties.

budapest central market

Dr John Thompson, director of the National Poisons Information Service in Cardiff has warned of the potential dangers involved:
“At this time of year we see a noticeable increase in poisoning cases as it is not always easy to differentiate between toxic and non-toxic species – even for people with experience in foraging”.

He sounds like a real fungi to sit next to at a dinner party. Celebrity Chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have been banging-on about organic delicacies such as field mushrooms for years but it’s noticeable that survival experts like Ray Mears and Bear Grylls have steered clear.

mushroom inspectorMaybe they’ve been warned-off by their public liability insurers after the 237 recorded cases of poisoning in 2013, many amongst children. This year’s wet August and mild Autumn seems likely to result in a bumper crop and the Government Public Health Service has issued a warning after recording some100 cases of poisoning in September alone. European countries are much better organised to cope than the UK. In Budapest you’re obliged to present your mushrooms to an official ‘Mushroom Inspector’ stationed in a kiosk on the Market who then either approves them for sale or confiscates them before you can serve them up to your mother-in-law. But of course Chefs love to use fresh mushrooms in their recipes all the time, not just in the harvesting season.

So the French invented the ‘Champignon de Paris’ – an edible species grown all year round by ‘Champignonnieres’ in abandoned limestone quarries under the City suburbs. A couple still operate today but the wholesale trade has come to rely on the tasteless ‘button’ mushroom grown in so-called mushroom farms. Fortunately new exotic species like Shiitake and Inoki are also now in production and they taste excellent but also look similar to some wild nasties. Industrial production has at least reduced the risk of playing mushroom roulette. I’ve not yet seen an official Mushroom Inspector on a UK Market but thanks to climate change they may arrive soon. In the meantime I suggest you restrict yourself to foraging for fresh field mushrooms and cooking them with bacon. I found some real beauties when out walking my dogs this morning and they tasted delicious.

See you next month.