I started writing this for last Friday's 'Flash', but was sidetracked by baking for the weekend's village festival, so I didn't manage to finish it until this morning. (cakes went down well though, although admittedly wouldn't have done had anyone read this first!)
The idea came from a review of a book on poisonous plants ('Wicked Plants' by Amy Stewart, reviewed by Anthony Lyman-Dixon in the current issue of 'Herbs', the journal of the Herb Society) in which the reviewer criticised 'yummy mummies' for blindly encouraging their children to taste plants. 'Tales' is, as you might have guessed from some of the stories here, rather interested in herbs and poisonous plants, so it was too good a prompt to miss. Here's the outcome, hope you enjoy it.
The raspberries were not doing well. Tansy straightened up, planted her hands on her hips, and blew a long lock of coloured blonde hair out of her harassed face. No amount of rummaging in the foliage was going to yield the kilo of ripe, plump berries she needed for tonight’s dinner party dessert. She had been visualising the envy on her friends’ faces at both her dexterity as a cook, and her green-fingered prowess in serving up home-grown food. Now she ran the risk of being spotted buying ingredients in Waitrose. It wasn’t what she’d planned.
She sighed as she pondered what to do. Meanwhile, Seth and Oliver had strayed onto the next-door allotment, and were kicking plant pots. Mathilda was squishing ladybirds, and the baby, Daisy-Lou, was eating soil. Tansy swept her fingers through her hair. What to do? It was so tiresome the raspberries hadn’t ripened. The allotment book said they should be ready.
“Ollie, Seth,” she called to her two older children. “Come on darlings, Mummy has to go shopping. Nothing’s ready here.” She bent down and scooped up Daisy-Lou, squawking at the soil smeared over her broderie-anglaise sundress. “Mathilda, why didn’t you stop her,” she snapped at her pig-tailed daughter. “I told you to watch her. Come on!”
“Have we got to go to the shop?” Oliver glowered, his eyes dark under his floppy blonde fringe.
“Yes darling,” Tansy breezed, strapping the baby into a car-seat.
“I want a comic,” Seth said.
“Well, I want sweets,” said Matilda.
They hadn’t driven far when Tansy had a bright idea.
“I know darlings,” she said. “Seth stop that. Matilda, take that out of your mouth. Oliver, I’ve told you not to do that. Let’s go to the ‘pick your own’ farm at Harefield. We can pick some raspberries. Won’t that be fun, darlings?”
The children erupted into a torrent of vociferous protests, but Tansy ignored them and turned up the ‘Baby Brain’ disk on the car stereo. It was a splendid idea, and she was pleased with herself. ‘Tansy saves the day’ she thought, dipping back into the fantasies that revolved around her friends’ envy. Life was good.
She led her straggling, squabbling brood across the fields. Under duress, they picked two punnets of big, ripe, luscious raspberries. They were almost done when Tansy noticed the herb garden. Herbs, she thought with a flare of inspiration. What a wonderful idea. No one would know they weren’t home-grown.
“Come on darlings,” she said, beckoning to Oliver, who was busy squashing ripe strawberries. “Let’s pick some herbs.”
“Look darlings, this is lemon balm. Here smell it,” she tore off a few leaves and held them up. Reluctant, the children sniffed, but their interest was snared. The leaves did smell lemony. “Taste them,” their mother urged. So they did, pulling faces at the bitterness, but bubbling with intrigue.
“What else can we find?”
Matilda pounced on a wafting fennel. Seth found parsley. Oliver pulled a face at the rosemary. The children scampered through the garden trying this, and tasting that, Tansy congratulating herself on capturing their interest. Basil, rocket, bergamot, angelica; there was nothing they didn’t stuff into their eager mouths.
“Edible flowers,” Tansy pointed to a bed of nasturtiums. “Try them darlings, they’re wonderful.”
“What about these?” Oliver said, picking a bunch of tiny purple flowers from the hedge. “They’re a nice colour.” He stuffed them into his mouth, chewed, and nodded. “They’re nice. Try them.”
“I think they’re some sort of violet,” Tansy pretended to know. “ Hmm. They’re weird. Weird but nice.”
They were on the way back to the car, when Oliver began to drag his feet and groan.
“I don’t feel well,” he moaned. “My tummy hurts.”
Matilda insisted hers did too. Tansy sighed, and checked her watch. She needed to get home quickly. There was just time to get the raspberry pudding made and into the fridge. But one look at the childrens’ faces made her stop with a gasp. They were equally pallid with a sweaty, green hue. Seth doubled over and was sick over Matilda’s shoes.
They were all being sick by the time they got home. Tansy crawled to the telephone to call the doctor. She managed to ring only one friend to say the dinner party was cancelled, before she fainted in a heap from the convulsing pains in her stomach.
The raspberries, forgotten, went rotten in the back of the car. Tansy never did get round to hosting that dinner party. And none of them, not one of them, ever ate anything involving herbs ever again.
[Bittersweet: Solanum Dulcamara (Woody Nightshade)
All parts of this woody climber are poisonous, including its bright red berries. Ingestion increases bodily secretions, leading to vomiting and convulsions.] Info from 'The Poison Garden Website'.