We had a bit of a drama this week when I thought that B had consumed some poisonous berries. Last week Olly came home from work with a warning to watch out for ‘date-like’ fruits falling from trees, which were reported by a couple of his colleagues to be extremely toxic. On a par with a death cap mushroom in terms of deadliness, Olly was lead (or lead himself) to believe. I was to take great care, as Belle is still at the stage of indiscriminately shoving things into her mouth. I’m forever removing wood-chip, pebbles, sand etc, so sticky, date-like fruits could obviously be a problem.
So the other day at a playground, where I’d put Belle down on the floor in order to push Elsie on the swings, I turned around expecting to have to deal with some munched-on wood chip (which is ubiquitous in New Zealand parks) only to find Belle squishing two yellow, sort of date-shaped fruits in her hand. I couldn’t be sure if any had gone in her mouth but there did seem to be a bit of something yellow on her chin. At first I thought, oh that’s OK, picturing the shriveled-up brown things which you eat with a strange plastic prong at Christmas – dates are brown. And then got a flash of the outside of a turkish grocers and realised that fresh dates are yellow.
Quickly I got Belle back in the buggy and coaxed Elsie down from the crow’s nest she’d climbed atop of. I sent a text to Olly, trying to sound all casual -Y’know those poisonous dates , what colour are they? – and started to head back up the hill home. A few minutes later a reply came in from Olly – dark, red – sometimes yellow. At this point, I started to feel a wee bit anxious. Soon followed a photo from Ol, as it just so happened that he was passing by one of the trees in question.
Oh christ, this was indeed what Belle had been sucking. I had to get home and drive to a hospital – quick. I got Elsie on the buggy board and somehow mustered the strength to push them both up the hill from the beach back to our flat. I imagined myself as the wolf-mother who’s able to rip the door off a burning car to rescue her child as I huffed and puffed up the steep incline. I was hot and I was sweaty but I didn’t care – my baby’s life was in danger!
A minute from home, another message came in from Olly, they are called Karaka seeds, it’s the inner part of the fruit that’s deadly, the rest isn’t so bad. At this I felt my panic lessen. The inner part of the fruit that Belle had been handling was a hard, large stone. There was no way she’d eaten that. She’d have choked to death before she was poisoned. But still, she may have eaten the fruit which I still believed to have toxic qualities.
Once home I thought I had enough time to give the girls some lunch whilst I googled this nasty. Belle seemed fine, munching on a cream cheese sandwich, oblivious to the fact I was still imagining her on permanent dialysis. But within seconds of accessing the world wide web I discovered that, in fact, the fruit of the karaka is, edible. A little bitter perhaps but nonetheless not in the least bit harmful.The kernel is poisonous, although not necessarily deadly and certainly not equivalent to one of the UK’s most poisonous fungi. Actually the karaka has more in common with an apricot, which also has edible flesh and a poisonous kernel and rather than being avoided, is sold in most green-grocers and often fed to small children.
So why had I been given such a grave warning about this fruit? It’s not likely that my daughters would have eaten its hard stone. I thought, from the way the information had been conveyed, that this must be ‘a thing’ in NZ, a phenomena. I imagined that a few infants and children die every year from eating these soft, squiggly, date-like fruits. But no, it was nothing of the kind.
My explanation for this scare-mongering is that it relates to Kiwis huge national pride. Most people who know a Kiwi will recognise a bit of the Kiwi psyche which has enormous self-belief in their little country. They believe that their mountains are the most beautiful, their coffee tastes the best and that the flavour of New Zealand kiwi-fruit is far superior to those grown in Italy. This isn’t boastfulness, it’s a very gentle form of patriotism. But whilst the coffee is great here and the mountains are stunning, this tendency to want to claim difference or superiority sometimes strays onto territory upon which New Zealanders don’t have such a sure-footing. (Best not to mention to a New Zealander that kwi fruit are not actually native to NZ.) And rather than leave certain topics alone, they still need to make a claim. So instead of settling for the fact that New Zealand is a ridiculously safe country and leaving the shit-that-can-kill-you to their Ozzie neighbours, Olly’s colleagues apparently felt the need to create a sense of danger from the presence of these sort-of but not-so poisonous fruits.
Anyway, in this case, the danger was none-existent. Belle was fine and continues to shove things in her mouth indiscriminately. Thank god for Wikipedia, which saved me a first trip to New Zealand casualty.