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Cherries are in season right now, so I baked a cherry pie, the first of several fruit pies I’ll bake this summer.
The recipe for traditional cherry pie is easy: fresh (or frozen) tart cherries, sugar, cornstarch, and butter, and a crust to put it in, another to cover it. Some recipes call for vanilla or almond extract to be added, because they enhance the cherry flavor.
But almonds are poison.
Well, actually, wild almonds are poison, but the tame variety, the ones we eat, aren’t. But the almond extract is derived from the bitter ones. Carefully. A handful of nuts from a bitter almond tree, ingested all at once, could kill you. If, that is, you actually ate them. They are reputed to be extremely bitter.
I needed a murder weapon for my first try at mystery writing and it had to be a plant poison. Because I detest the scent of almond extract/bitter almond oil, it was an easy choice. Every mystery fan knows the symptoms of arsenic poisoning, and most could probably tell you how to test for the presence of arsenic in a nearly empty coffee cup. But who would suspect a cherry pie?
After that the story’s title was obvious.
But back to almonds. And their relatives, all members of the rose family (which includes apples, prunes, almonds, and cherries and a bunch of other delicious summer fruits). Most of their seeds contain hydrogen cyanide (HCN). Cyanide, in other words. And it’s a pretty potent poison.
Since that first mystery I’ve learned a lot about plant poisons. Especially the unsuspected ones, the ones that hide in common fruits and vegetables, just waiting for someone to prepare them incorrectly, or perhaps add more than a recipe calls for. Summer, with its abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, offers all sorts of possibilities. Green rhubarb stalks, for instance. Potato sprouts in a salad. Hmmm.
Why don’t you come over for a snack one of these warm afternoons?
Emaline has been taking care of her elderly, cranky grandfather for so long, she wonders if she’ll ever have a life again. When he demands a sumptuous meal, she obliges, even baking him his favorite pie. It’s Johnny Banister’s last meal, but the medical examiner finds nothing suspicious. So why does Emaline seek a way to dispose of the almond extract bottle? And why does she worry that Detective Harry Jordan wants more than the pleasure of her company when he asks her to dinner?
About the Author:Jaye Watson is the alter ego of a sweet little old lady who doesn’t want her grandchildren to know what dark and bloody thoughts she harbors in her heart of hearts. She would rather write about serial killers than romantic lovers, and much prefers a good treatise on deadly poisons to any collection of homestyle recipes. For amusement, Jaye plots new and different ways to kill off the people who cut in front of her in grocery lines and crowd her on the freeway.