A meal to die for

It might have gone down in the annals of true crime as murder by potato if things had turned out differently.

I can see the headline now: ‘Woman wipes out entire family with meat and two veg.’ The motive? Why, culinary jealousy, of course. It would have been a crime gastronomique.

Everyone knows, you see, that my roast potatoes are twice as good as Janet’s. She does brilliant desserts, and her Victoria sandwich is to die for. But when we invite friends for dinner, they say: ‘Are we having David’s roast potatoes?’ That would get to a person.

On this occasion, however, the guests included Phil, who once worked for the Potato Marketing Board and so knows his onions. Phil was nosing around our kitchen when Janet brought me a bowl of King Edwards for peeling. ‘Will this be enough?’ she asked. ‘Enough?’ said Phil. ‘There’s enough to kill us all!’

The potatoes had turned green. Why? Because Janet had left them in the back of the car rather than storing them in the dark. ‘I thought the green potato thing was an old wives’ tale,’ she protested. So Phil told her about solanine.

It seems the dullest of vegetables is actually a smart cookie. If tubas find themselves poking above the soil, they produce the aforementioned toxin to protect themselves from insect attack. They make chlorophyll at the same time, which explains the green colour. But while chlorophyll is harmless, the solanine can kill you.

Seventy-eight boys and staffat a London school were poisoned in 1979 when they were served potatoes that had been left out. They survived, but 17 ended up in hospital.

I never knew about solanine because my school drilled me in really useful things, such as logarithms and subjunctives rather than food safety. And while Janet did domestic science, she claims she was offthe day they did potatoes.

I believe her, but whether a jury would have is something we shall never know.

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