The Poison Garden: Is Alnwick Castle Trying to Kill You? | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 725
October 26, 2023

The Poison Garden: Is Alnwick Castle Trying to Kill You?

The Poison Garden: Is Alnwick Castle Trying to Kill You?

We venture inside the Alnwick Poison Garden to find the world’s most dangerous plants––including some common fruits and vegetables with a sinister side. Guide Tom Pattison takes us on a tour and offers up tales of deadly accidents, hallucinogenic honey and the case of the Curry Killer. Plus, Tristan Donovan reveals how soda changed the world, Dan Pashman reimagines breakfast cereal, Cheryl Day tackles your baking dilemmas, and we make Upside-Down Cardamom-Spiced Plum Cake.

Questions in this Episode

“I'm having a hard time with my 4-ingredient chocolate mousse recipe. Can you help me?"

"I'm making a chocolate orange banana bread recipe, but the batter looks curdled. Is there something I can do to avoid that?"

"What's the proper conversation rate from cups to grams?"

PW Gympie Gympie The Alnwick Garden 16

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street radio from PRX and I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Before you tour the grounds of Alnwick Castle, you're instructed not to taste anything. And that's because you will encounter only plants that kill. The castle is home to a poison garden, which means everything edible can be lethal. There are common fruits and vegetables with a sinister side.

Tom Pattinson: the potato, the tomato capsicums aubergine

CK: and there are plants you would absolutely not want to eat like wolfsbane.

TP: And the Greeks called it the queen of poisonous because they use it to kill people,

CK: Wolfsbane was also used by the infamous curry killer. That story and more coming up later in the show. But first, we're learning about the surprising history of soda with Tristan Donovan, author of Fizz. Tristan, welcome to Milk Street.

Tristan Donovan: Pleased to be here.

CK: So, Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World. It turns out that carbonated beverages have been around a really long time. So, 18th century is when all this started.

TD: Yeah, that's right. That's when we started working out how to carbonate water, obviously natural spring water that was naturally fuzzy and existed forever.

CK: And then Schweppes came along and invented the compression pump. He was giving it away to doctors, hoping they could use it to treat the city's poor. So, what exactly what does that mean and how did they help the city's poor.

TD: So, in the 18th century, people believed that carbonated water was helpful, it would have curative properties, it would give you kind of strength, it would cure scurvy. I mean, that was the big game they fought people can sail around the world without dying all the time. So, it was seen as a very important thing to achieve, at a time when people didn't really have much knowledge of medicine.

CK: So, root beer, I kind of knew this story. But it was really a health tonic. Isn't that how it got started?

TD: Yeah, sounds like bits of bark and all kinds of stuff. Traditionally, root beer emerged out of what people in medieval Europe called small beers. And they were fermented. That's where they got their fizziness from. So, this is why they're not soda.

CK: So, Coca Cola, everybody's heard this story that there was coca leaf in it, so that the design of the glass was reflective of the coca leaf. Is that right?

TD: No, it’s the coca pod where chocolate comes from? So, the guy who designed it basically looked up the wrong thing. But I thought that looked better, so he used that for his design. So luckily looked in the wrong part of the encyclopedia and it worked out quite well for them.

CK: God, it would have been so much better if it was a coca leaf. That'd be great. Okay, so Coca Cola is a huge success. They, you know, make it part of Christmas, you say that it's often claimed that Coca Cola is 1931 Christmas ad created the look of the modern-day Santa Claus, with his red suit, etc. So it really did a brilliant job connecting the product to the American culture. But what about Dr. Pepper and Pepsi?

TD: So, let's start with Pepsi. I mean, Pepsi was just one of many hundreds of Coca Cola imitators. But Pepsi was the one that survived and went on to be their big competitor. Dr. Pepper was something else entirely. So came from Waco in Texas, just created at soda fountain, where the soldier was realizing that everyone was getting a bit bored of the usual flavors and created this drink, which really became the drink of Texas. But eventually, in the 60s and 70s, it finally started to go national. So, Dr. Pepper has been around a long time. It's actually earlier than Coca Cola by a year, but it's had a very slow rise to national prominence.

CK: So, the 60s happen Haight Ashbury, etcetera and Seven Up embraces the hippie movement. Pepsi did not. I guess there was a point in the late 60s 70s, where a lot of those products had to sort of decide which road to take, right?

TD: Yeah, so Seven Up is quite an interesting one, because it, it always been kind of popular. But by the end of the 60s, it was like this sort of forgotten soda. So, it was owned by Philip Morris, the tobacco company at the time, and they did all these surveys and say, Oh, what's your favorite soda? And people would list off their 10 favorite sodas and they wouldn't name Seven Up and the person running the focus group would go What about Seven Up and everyone's like, oh, yeah, really lights me up. I just forgot about it. So, they decided to go for this sort of Yellow Submarine Beatle style image to try and actually kind of reconnect with people and go actually wear the un-cola. And we're different. Don't forget about us. It was a very successful campaign and kind of put them a bit back on the map after they were sort of fading away.

CK: So, the Pepsi Challenge I remember that were Pepsi and Coke. It was a Pepsi ad and people would drink an unidentified cola and they think it was Coke, but it was actually Pepsi. And then people prefer Pepsi.

Pepsi ad: I want you to tell me which cola you prefer. Oh, Ma, Pepsi. We choose the Pepsi It was unanimous the both of us. Don’t take our word for it. Let your taste decide. Take the Pepsi challenge.

CK: Did that, it was very famous as a commercial did it actually work, did it boost sales of Pepsi?

TD: Oh, yeah, the Pepsi Challenge really did work. That campaign persuaded people who'd never really bothered with Pepsi to go, well, I should give it a try. And basically, by the mid 80s, they were almost neck and neck. So, it had this massive effect it basically kind of after years of being on top Coca Cola, start to see more and more market share going to Pepsi and it looked like Pepsi was going to pull ahead.

CK: And then coke with its deep tentacles in the retail market just managed to bull its way through or was something else happened?

TD: Well, New Coke happens. So yeah, so basically Coca Cola panics and goes, there's something wrong with our drink. We're going to make it more like Pepsi.

Coca Cola ad: Hi we’re new addition. We’re here to introduce the great new taste of Coca Cola, the taste of today.

TD: Instantly, (and then, yeah, right). Everyone's like, what are you doing? Leave our Coca Cola alone. And this has this huge backlash, and they have to bring back the original Coca Cola. But oddly, and this definitely was not planned. It made everyone kind of cherish Coca Cola again.

CK: It was brilliant, although it wasn't intended, which is the decision was Pepsi or Coke. The new decision was New Coke or original coke. Yeah. So, 20 years ago, people went after soda, because of the obesity rate in America going up so quickly, trying to ban soda in schools. That's seems to have died down a little bit. So, are sodas sort of back in good form now you think? Or have they shifted their marketing and perception in a way where they've kind of avoided taking a big hit for that?

TD: I, I think that the debate has eased. So, there was like this period for about 10 years where, you know, it was like liquid candy, we got to kind of clear out all the soda that we're serving to children in schools, you know, soda was everywhere. And in large quantities. I mean, as a kid growing up in the 80s, I think that was about six months of my life where I drank nothing but lemonade. I don't think many children today will be able to do that. So, I think there's been a shift away from soda. When I go to the US, when I first started going kind of mid 2000s, you know, there will be coolers in shops, and all soda, everything was soda. And now you know there's water, there's fruit juice, there seems to be much more choice. And I think that's partly because of changing consumer habits. It's also a change in the companies that make soda. So, the Coca Cola Company also makes a lot of bottled water and owns a lot of other drinks. And the same is true for Pepsi. So, they've kind of turned themselves into beverage companies. And really, they don't mind if you're buying bottled water, instead of Mug root beer, it doesn't really matter to them that much because it's still a sale.

CK: Yeah, it's probably not that expensive to take water out of a tap and quote unquote, purify it in a bottle. not that I'm cynical, but I mean

TD: it's probably cheaper, right? You don't have to have any flavoring.

CK: Just like I’m saying is how much does it cost to make a bottle of water after all? Tristan, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.

TD Likewise. Thanks, Chris.

Coca cola ad: I like to teach the world the same thing with me.

CK: That was Tristan Donovan. His book is called Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World. Now it's time to answer your baking questions with special guest. Cheryl Day. Cheryl was the owner of Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia. She's also the author of Cheryl Days Treasury of Southern Baking.

Cheryl Day: So, Chris, I made Do you remember Karen Clays coconut cake?

CK: Do I remember it? I've eaten about 12 of them.

CD: So, I made it the other day. And I mean, that cake is literally I think the best coconut cake I've ever eaten. It's just everything you want coconut cake to be.

CK: Well, the texture is unbelievable. (It's so good). It has that velvety satiny texture, which is good. It's also, oddly enough, not too sweet.

CD: I love the salted butter.

CK: Yeah, the salted butter. It balances sweet and brings out other flavors. Yeah, that's, it's sort of the king of well, there's chocolate cake. But the coconut cake has to be near the top of the cake pyramid, don't you think?

CD: I think so.

CK: Man, was that a good cake.

CD: So good, but so yeah, I made it the other day at the bakery because one of my mentors ordered a coconut cake. And I said, you know, I think I'm going to step it up and make this cake and it was absolutely perfect.

CK: Well, you made your mentor happy.

CD: I did.

CK: It’s always good. (Yep) Okay, time to take some calls.

CD: Hi, welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?

Caller: I'm Lisa from Philadelphia.

CD: Hi, Lisa. How can we help you today?

Caller: Well, I'm hoping you can help me solve a mystery. That's crossed two continents and two decades. Oh, boy, mother and I made an amazing chocolate mousse forever in the States and in Australia. It has only four ingredients. It was perfect. And then suddenly, four years ago, it failed. It went from being this velvety bourbon infused mousse to a limp chocolate soup.

CD: Oh Goodness. That doesn't sound good. So, it's a mousse?

Caller: It's a mousse. Yes. And the ingredients are simply semi-sweet chocolate chips, light cream scalded, egg yolks and brandy. And you heat them, put them in the blender, process it to smooth. And it's always been amazing for over 20 years. And then suddenly, it just stopped working.

CK: Just run through the actual process.

Caller: Sure. You scald the light cream. Then you put everything in a blender. Then you add the semi-sweet chocolate chips, the two egg yolks and the three tablespoons of brandy. And you process it at blend until its smooth.

CD: What makes it a mousse? It sounds more like a pudding or a pots de crème.

Caller: It is called a pots de creme that's the correct name. Right, yes. So, it is a pots de crème and we poured into these individual cups, put it in the refrigerator. And it always came out amazingly well.

CK: The key question is did you change the type of chocolate chips?

Caller: No, not that I'm aware of. Unless you think the chocolate chips changed brand? Yeah. Same brand. Same semi sweet, same size.

CD: See, I was going to ask about the cream because light cream is interesting. I usually hear heavy cream. I don't ever hear light cream. Do you Chris?

CK: I would think heavy cream for this.

CD: I mean, I mix in mine. I do heavy cream and milk. So maybe that would be like a light cream.

Caller: Oh, interesting. Oh, right. And maybe the scalding maybe I always scalded it until the little bubbles appeared on the top.

CD: Starts to steam. (Yep). And the blender. So that's how you've always made it in a blender?

Caller: Yep. Yeah, it is unusual. And it's so easy.

CD: When I do it. I just do exactly what you said except for I don't put it in the blender, which seems to me it would cool it down quite a bit. And then do you bake after that for how long? And what temperature and is it in a water bath or tell me about that process?

Caller: Oh, that's a great thing. I just poured into little custard cups and put it in the refrigerator. And it sets in three to five hours.

CK: You have two eggs in this?

Caller: Yes, two egg yolks.

CK: What's happening is those yolks need to be cooked to a certain temperature. Otherwise, they're not going to provide any thickening so what's happening is you're pouring in scalded milk, which is 180 degrees or something. You're putting in this big blender with a bunch of chocolate and other things. By the time it mixes with the egg yolks, they're not going to cook. And so, since they're not getting cooked, they're not thickening the mixture. So, one thing you could do is put that mixture back on the stovetop in the saucepan, after the blender and bring it up to like 175 stirring. You don't want to be over 180 probably and then put it in the cups.

Caller: Well, that's wonderful. You solved the mystery. Thank you so much.

CK: Well, we don't know. I proposed a solution.

CD: I have a couple of other ideas because to me a pots de crème is a baked pudding. I do two different kinds of chocolate pudding, I do a pudding that I cook on the stovetop, then I don't put it in a blender or anything like that. But I pour it through a sieve. But for a pots de crème it through a sieve., I do put it in the cups. I put it in the oven at like 250 degrees. And I cook it in a water bath for about 45 minutes to an hour until it sets, I don't see how it's going to set if it hasn't gotten to the proper temperature. Well, obviously you've discovered it's not going to otherwise, like Chris said, you could cook it on the stovetop, but to me that's a chocolate pudding, a pots de crème I think of as a baked custard. So, it just kind of depends which way you want to go.

Caller: Well, I so appreciate your help.

CK: Well, let us know.

CD: Thanks for calling.

Caller: Oh, that's so kind of you. Thank you so much for your show. It's wonderful. Thank you good bye.

CK: Thanks for calling. This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a baking disaster, give us a call. The number is 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 Or simply email us at questions at Milk Street

CD: Welcome to Milk Street whose calling.

Caller: Hi, this is Laurie and I'm calling from north shore of Boston.

CD: Hi, Laurie. How can we help?

Caller: So, my question regarding something that I noticed when following directions for Paul Hollywood's chocolate orange banana bread recipe. (Okay) so the first step of the recipe, which is the most pertinent to my question, it calls for mixing mashed bananas, sugar, softened butter and grated orange zest. The next step the eggs are beaten in one at a time. And following that the flour and baking powder. you sift over the banana mixture and fold in. So, what I found is that the banana mixture in that very first step appears to look like what I'm calling curdled. Is this because orange zest is acidic. And when mixed with dairy, the butter it results in this chemical change. And I'm wondering, should I add the citrus zest as one of the last steps of the recipe rather than the first? Because I did make the banana bread. And I wasn't too happy with it.

CD: What you're dealing with actually is not disastrous. Basically, what's happening is you know, you're creaming Chris and I talk about this a lot when you're creaming the sugar and butter together and then you're adding in eggs to a very fatty mixture that does not want to emulsify easily. When I make banana breads and cakes. I usually do melted butter or oil because I find that it emulsifies a lot easier. It's definitely not the zest because I make pies all the time that have butter and zest and that shouldn't be an issue and if it does look a little curdled usually it pulls together once you start adding the flour. Did that happen here or not?

Caller: No, it stayed curdled. Yeah, it just didn't look right.

CD: What do you think, Chris?

CK: This reminds me a pound cake because a pound cake does look curdled sometimes, there's a different reason sometimes, which is you don't have room temperature ingredients. Right? If the butter in particular is cold, it does not emulsify as easily as when it's cool room temperature is 67. It's malleable, but it's not. So, I think the problem here is get the butter at 67 degrees, just put an instant read thermometer. And then the eggs also probably should be room temperature. You can put them in a breakfast bowl for a minute with some hot water on them. And that'll help a lot. The second thing is I've many times made a curdled batter and then baked it off. And it was fine. Right? So, it doesn't necessarily mean it's not going to come out or beat each egg for 20 seconds. Which seems like just forever. Yeah, it really seems like after five seconds you go I think I don't know. But if you really do that, that also helps emulsification.

Caller: Okay, so that no, I think that answers that well, thank you for all that advice

CD: Thank you for your question. Bye.

Caller: Thanks bye bye

CK: Thanks for calling.

Caller: Okay, thanks. Bye bye.

CK: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Davina from Brookline, Massachusetts.

CD: Hi, Davina. How can we help?

Caller: I'm trying to update my recipes because it saves time for me to use the kitchen scale rather than measuring cups (it sure does) and I'm sure you’ve heard questions like this before but I'm having a problem with converting cups to grams because there’s disagreement, but for flour, there is more agreement, but not exactly. I know at King Arthur as they say it's 120 grams per cup. And Milk St says 130 per cup. Yeah, and some say a little higher. And when I bake bread, you know, the difference begins to add up. So, the question I have is does a 10 gram per cup difference matter?

CK: Well, I think my answer has to be just do it Milk Street says, because, but I can't really say that because I have enormous love for the folks at King Arthur, they do a great job.

CD: And I hate to tell you, I'm right in the middle so we'll have a conversation about that.

CK: Good. We'll do it the Cheryl's way. But I'll tell you how we did this, we looked at a dozen different places like King Arthur, baking books, you know, Stella Parks people, of course, Cheryl's and we see what they say about measurements. And then we did it ourselves and tried to come up with, you know, a mean, based on our testing, the problem is, different people measure flour differently by volume, and a cup could be over five ounces, or it could be at four ounces. So, at some point, you just have to come to an agreement in your kitchen, what it's going to be, I would say, Cheryl’s probably right, I would split the difference between 120 and 130 125.

CD: Yeah, that's what I do. (I think that's probably fine). But you know, that's a good range between 120 I tend to be closer to 130, I would think but 125 works perfectly for me.

CK: I think the key point is the fact that you're weighing your flour. So, you're miles ahead of folks who don't. There's another issue which is the wildcard which is if you get a recipe that calls for dry ingredients by volume, right 2 cups flour, well, you have no idea how much flour they're using, right? Because it depends how they measure it. So, the difference between 120 to 30 grams is the least of your problems. The real problem is what did the person who write the recipe think is in a cup and you don't know.

CD: Thankfully, so many recipes now Davina do give weight. So, I would go with you know what that particular recipe says.

Caller: And sometimes they actually the weight and the volume don't even nearly match. But no, that's a whole other problem.

CD: So true.

CK: One of the other things about weighing dry ingredients is tearing, right? So, you can put the flour in the bowl, reset to zero, add the sugar to the bowl reset to zero. So, it's great because you can add four or five ingredients, the same bowl and do it really quickly. So that's the other reason I love using a scale.

CD: And especially if you're making bread.

Caller: Yes, yeah, I was trying to figure out molasses for making gingerbread and everybody was all over the place about that and weight. So, I finally just came up with my own way, two thirds of a cup, because nobody agreed on it

CD: Davina you are well on your way to be a professional baker because that's exactly what I do for molasses. And for honey. That's the best way to do it and then just write it down and then you have your own chart.

Caller: Okay, well, it's been good talking to you. So at least I don't feel like I'm the only one out there with this problem.

CK: No. Everybody’s got it.

CD: No, not at all. It's a great question. Thanks so much for calling.

CK: Thanks for calling.

Caller: Thank you. Bye bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up. Could there be a killer lurking in your herb garden? That's up right after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, we're heading to the English countryside to visit Ainwick castle. Maybe you've seen its state room and Downton Abbey or it's courtyards in some of the early Harry Potter movies, it's where Harry takes his first flight on a broom. But elsewhere on the grounds there are a series of gardens, some filled with roses, some filled with topiaries and one that requires this warning.

Tom Pattison: Don't touch, taste or smell anything.

CK: This is Tom Pattinson, a tour guide at Ainwick poisoned garden, a collection of the world's most dangerous plants. Pattinson says that even if you follow these rules, you may still be at risk.

TP: We actually keep a tally of how many people faint each year in this garden. I suppose you put a little star on your shoulder if someone's fainted on one of your tours. I've just had one fainter this year, so I'm lagging behind, which is a horrible thought. Isn't it fun in people to faint? But there you are, and it keeps the boss happy. Shane Duchess of Northumberland because she wants this garden to shock people into realizing you can't fool around with plants.

CK: Duchess Jane Percy is the creator of the poison garden she likes to maintain a strong focus on the sinister. If she overhears Tom or another guide extolling the virtue of a plant, how it could be medicinal or tasty in small doses. She'll pull them aside and say,

Jane Percy’s words: I don't want to hear the good parts of a plant. I want you to emphasize the nasty bits. The guts and the gore.

CK: To tour the garden like we're doing today, you need to be able to appreciate the macabre and this becomes even clearer when you reach a set of big black gates.

TP: On those gates. Notice these plants can kill to skull and crossbones. I see a spider there and I see a serpent, a snake an asp the one that allegedly put an end to Cleopatra's life. Big thing I like about this gate is it has a wonderful clanging sound in we go. I'm looking down the garden and I can see rhubarbs. Now why on earth would we have rhubarb in a poison garden? I love rhubarb and custard for dessert. But unfortunately, the leaves contain oxalic acid, or poison. It's the main ingredient in a bottle of paint stripper. Can you imagine during the First World War in this country, we put out a substitute list of vegetables substitutes for cabbage, for example. And rhubarb leaves are on the list. Oops. Moving up a bit here. One of the biggest offenders in terms of plant families belongs to the group Solanaceae potatoes, tomatoes and deadly nightshade which is behind us. I can see the black fruit shining there saying come and taste me. And apparently they're Moorish to taste. But I am not going to try and thank you because three could kill a child. I'm looking down mentioned the children. hellebore, a youngsters used to have tapeworms in their gut. And this was the medicine that was given with some porridge or gruel crush up some of these roots. Get the child to eat it, it’ll kill the tapeworm. If the dose was too big, it killed the child as well. Moving on.

CK: Tom could tell a cautionary tale for every plant in the garden. Even the apple cherry and medlar trees that grow in the corner. All their seeds contain cyanide. But aside from these accounts of common dangers and unfortunate accidents, there are more extraordinary cases of killer plants. Tom is joining me now to share more about the poison garden. Tom, welcome to Milk Street.

TD: Well, thanks. That's very kind of you, Chris. Good to be here.

CK: You mentioned that Duchess Jane Percy is behind the garden and how she wants you to tell the bloody tales of these plants. But I just really want to know how she got this idea in the first place.

TD: Okay. The garden itself was first established in 1750 by the first Duke. Fast forward to the year 1995 96 when Duchess Jane came on the site, it was going to be turned into a 12-acre carpark for the town. She came on the scene and said it's going to be a garden and a garden with a difference. She visited Italy and the Medici gardens and was taken by what the Medici history was poisoning people getting rid of their enemies. And 2005 she said, I'm going to realize this dream of having a poisoned garden. Everyone else has a curative garden, a healing garden, I am going to have in it only plants that kill

CK: So, every plant can kill. I mean what do you mean by poisonous here?

TD: On the sliding scale I suppose we have 100 different plants in there. And the lowest of low which is a nettle sting. But it still has what we say is an adverse pharmacological effect on a human being. So, it's called poisonous. At the top end of the scale, we have a fighter toxin called Ricinus communis, and that is the ricin plant. So in between, we have a cluster of plant families. And in that plant family we have the potato, the tomato, capsicums chilies, aubergine, Deadly Nightshade, and the mandrake of Harry Potter fame. All of those plants, they contain what we call true pain poisons. So, the least you can get from that, are serious diarrhea, stomach upset, etc. And of course, at the other end is death.

CK: I remember one of the James Bond novels from the 60s took place in Japan. Yeah. And there was a poison garden in that story, if you remember the book. That's right. And the gardener's had to walk around in special suits. And do the gardeners have to wear protective clothing to work in the garden?

TD: Oh, yes. You might not remember the moon landings in 1969. But I do. And the suits, they wore there, they're very reminiscent of those white suits covering every part of the body. But this is the pièce de resistance far as I'm concerned. The Duchess, she does host some nudist, you know, sort of a nudist day there, where people strip off the clothes, and they do a tour of the garden. And I know the garden as well because I work alongside them. And one of them Ben, who is the Senior gardener is a very quiet chap and he’ll I'll try anything once. So, there he was walking around giving them a tour of the garden, naked.

CK: There's obviously a certain pleasure and joy in all of this. Is it just because it's different and controversial?

TD: Yes. Well, it can't be controversial, of course, but people do enjoy it. And I think there's a bit of fear in it. Because we have to be serious. We have to stick to the script here and talk about the darker side of plants.

CK: So, let's go through a few more plants. So, we heard about rhubarb leaves and the nightshades. Yeah, but what about some of the really deadly ones you mentioned ricin or castor bean? What does that look like the castor bean plant.

TD: The castor bean It's called red leaves. And the main part is the capsule, the seed capsule, which has the castor beans in, and it can go to waste. The Duchess isn't listening, I hope so I can tell you this, you can get castor oil which is useful from the beans. But if you process it another way you get ricin and that is deadly. Infamously Georgi Markov of in this late 70s, 1970s. He was walking on Waterloo Bridge, and he felt a sharp pain in his thigh. And four days later, he was dead. They tried to X ray and couldn't see anything. But eventually they actually found the tiniest pellet imaginable. And what it did was shut down all his vital organs. So, over the 100 plants that we have in there, many of them you stand a chance of survival, but with ricin there's absolutely no chance at all.

CK: Monkshood or wolfsbane everyone I think has heard of yet. I guess it repels wolves and werewolves. But how does it work? What does the plant look like?

TD: Well, the plant itself has blue purple flowers. The Greeks called it the queen of poisons because they use it to kill people. And there's another case quite a famous, famous incident in this country called the curry killer. And this is a lady from India and a Mr. Chima came to stay with her and her husband she had two or three children. And after a while this Mr. Chima he started to have an affair with her. But then he met a younger woman, and he planned to marry her. So, this lady secretly she had been back to India, and she had got some monkshood powder and she put it into a curry that she found in the in the fridge. And he came back with his fiancée, and he died, and the fiancé lived.

CK: Oh, man, that’s and test your curry before you eat it. You also mentioned that the rhododendrons, of which I've had plenty around houses in the past, but I guess there can be a problem with Rhododendron nectar.

TD: Yes, well, this one started off especially it was noticed in Turkey. The bees seem to go to have quite a lot. And they were making quite a lot of honey of course, and people are eating the honey and hallucinating afterwards. So, in this country, we call it mad honey. And there are incidents at least one really incidents of warfare between two countries and one of them leaves jars of honey to so that the enemy who was winning will think that they've found they've survived and then not had time to take the honey with them. So, they get stuck into the honey and just start hallucinating. And it's a bit like the Trojan horse they take over when they were once, they're hallucinating.

CK: Now another one that was surprising, as you said, snow drops, yeah. contain a nasty compound in their bulbs. Yeah, which actually can cause death. Right?

TD: It can actually and it's not just the snow drop. It's the daffodil as well contains a poison. About five years ago, there was a national supermarket chain, they were actually fined for displaying Northside bulbs and Snowdrop bulbs near onions and onion sets because they look so much alike. And then just about maybe two months ago in the national press, it's happened again, someone was taken to task for selling daffodil bulbs, next to some onion bulbs. So, we never learn you see,

CK: Tom. Great pleasure. Thank you so much. And I don't think I'll take the tour on nudist day but

TD: Chris, let me say if you're in Ainwick and you wanted to see the castle, I'd be a pleasure to take you there.

CK: I will remember your offer.

TD: Okay.

CK: Thank you so much.

TD: You're welcome.

CK: Take care.

TD: Lovely talking to you.

CK: That was Tom Pattinson, a tour guide at the Ainwick Poison Garden. Every year 1000s of visitors walk through the garden with Tom and the other guides.

TD: So, we'll come in and we'll count out hopefully the numbers match up. But there's no guarantee your guarantee in this life.

CK: So far this year, 134 people have fainted. loving people have vomited, two ambulances were called and three people proposed marriage. The visitors on this tour made it out alive and we pulled a few of them aside to find out why they came to the poison garden and what they learned.

Visitor: So, my name is Daniel. I'm going to go by the name Forager Dan, and I'm a foraging instructor from Nottingham.

CK: To prepare for one of his classes. Dan wanted to get a close look at a plant that can trouble foragers.

Visitor: the giant hogweed that's something that I often teach about common hog weeders one of my favorite wild edibles. So really beautiful temper buttered, and that's like it's poisonous cousin.

Visitor: Hello, my name is Lorna Leeming. And I come from Suffolk.

CK: Lorna and her husband. We're also worried about doppelgangers.

Visitor: We've got our grandchildren and I feed them berries from the hedgerows. So, I do give them elderberries and blackberries and everything else but I'm not sure about Deadly Nightshade. We’re sure not to give them. I just want to see it so that I don't mistake it in future.

CK: Most of the people we spoke to share this carefulness. They wanted to know what not to eat. But then we met Caroline Barton.

Visitor: I mean, my fascination is how you could murder your husband. Sorry, Jim. Could you just grow something? At least I can be on guard now. Yes, exactly.

CK: Maybe some of us like Caroline's husband, Jim should exercise a bit of caution with both plants and people. Using poison to dispatch enemies is of course a time-honored practice. In Rome, mushrooms and Bella Donna were the poisons of choice. Socrates, of course died of hemlock. Rasputin was fed cakes and wine infused with cyanide, which oddly had no effect. So, then he was shot and thrown into a river. The creature Borgia had a reputation as a world class poisoner, using a hollow ring to slip poison into a lover's drink. And our own CDC claims that 48 million Americans get food poisoning each year and over 100,000 are hospitalized. You know, it's one thing to be poisoned deliberately, but getting poisoned for absolutely no good reason seems truly beyond the pale. Special thanks to Hamish Brown, our field producer at the Ainwick Poison Garden. This is Mill Street Radio after the break Dan Pashman, and I will battle over breakfast cereal that's coming up I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now let's head into the kitchen with Lynn Clark to talk about this week's recipe. Upside Down cardamom spiced plum cake. Lynn, how are you?

Lynn Clark: I'm doing well Chris.

CK: As you know, I love bakeries. I love baked goods. I love sweets. One of my favorite bakeries of all time is in East London. It's the Violet Bakery, it's Claire Ptak, she worked at Chez Panisse, she's known for taking the familiar and making it pretty interesting. So, she made three loaf cakes when I was there, one of them was an upside-down cardamom spice pumpkin and no all-purpose flour. And really interesting technique with the upside down. And I was thinking like, you know, this is just a simple loaf cake. But it's actually something quite special. So, take us through it because I think baking one of her recipes is really a great cooking lesson.

LC: It really is because, you know, I never even thought to put an upside-down cake in a loaf pan. So that in and of itself is kind of interesting. So obviously an upside-down cake everything that's on the bottom ends up on the top right. So, the bottom layer is a quick caramel. It's just a brown sugar and butter mixture. It forms almost like a paste, and that goes in the bottom. And then into that we stick some fruit, Claire uses figs in her recipe which are really, really seasonal. I think this season for that here in the Northeast is maybe like a week of fresh figs. So, we substituted with plums, you could also use pears in the fall, that would be really nice here as well. So, one layer of fruit, and then comes the batter. And that's where we get really interesting.

CK: We should just say, and I totally agree. All-purpose flour has no flavor.

LC: Exactly. So, we're going to use a couple of flours that have a lot of flavor. So, we've got almond flour, which has obviously it's nutty, it's buttery, it's got a lot of moisture to it. And then we have rye flour, which adds some bitterness here. And those both really really contrast with the sweetness of the fruit and the caramel and create a really nicely balanced cake of warm spice with cardamom in there a little bit of vanilla. So, then you turn it out and all that fruit and that caramel sauce is on the top and you've got this really nice loaf cake that you know, I wouldn't say looks like any other loaf cake I've ever had like a banana bread or zucchini bread. It's a really nice, beautiful cake. You know, essentially a one-layer cake but just in a long shape. Like a loaf cake.

CK: It's also not like pancake or other Bundt cakes. It's not dry, or fine crumbed it's very moist and scrumptious and rich. (Exactly) Which I really love.

LC: Yeah, you know, I would say don't think of it like a loaf cake that you know very well think of it more like almost like a sticky toffee pudding texture. It's got that really moist crumb, and a ton of like juice from the caramel and the fruit. It's a totally different thing but kind of familiar to look at. You know,

CK: Lynn Thank you very much. So next time you want to make a pancake please don't make upside down cardamom spice plum cake from Claire Ptak at the Violet Bakery in East London. Thanks Lynn.

LC: You're welcome. You can get the recipe for upside down cardamom spiced plum cake at Milk Street

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now let's see what's new in the world of Dan Pashman. Hey, Dan, what's up?

Dan Pashman: Well, you know, I've had a lot on my mind lately, you know, the kids are back in school. breakfast cereal consumption goes up around this time of year in our household. And I've been thinking a lot about why there aren't more savory breakfast cereals, because lately, I've been eating a lot of Peanut Butter Chex. One of my all-time favorite cereals. And I was trying to unpack like, why is this so good? Because there's a lot of peanut butter cereals out there. But I think Peanut Butter Chex is running circles around most of them. And I looked at the label and I think the reason is that Peanut Butter Chex has 35 to 50% more salt than any other cereal I compared it to including others with peanut butter in them.

CK: So, it's salty. Okay yeah, I like salty.

DP: It's not just salty, but it's also sweet and so it's savory and then you get the so natural sweetness of the milk. It led me to start experimenting with sprinkling Morton salt on all kinds of breakfast cereal.

CK: Yeah, it's interesting. Just last night, I actually had oatmeal for dinner, don't ask. And I did sprinkle I always sprinkle Malden salt on top it makes it ten times better.

DP: Yes, thank you it does. So, the makers of Malden salt hundreds of years ago in their bespoke suits probably didn't imagine that sprinkling it on late night oatmeal or Peanut Butter Chex, but nonetheless, it is fantastic Cracklin Oat Bran, Cinnamon Toast Crunch. All these are excellent with Malden salt sprinkled on top.

CK: You don't want like Kanji or rice porridge. You just want breakfast cereals that have more salt, which implies more savoriness.

DP: Right well, Kanji is a great example. But even oatmeal I think it's a little more common to put salt on. So, I'm just saying that like other types of foods that are the sort of like, comforting often morning foods. I just think that like people haven't thought to add salt to breakfast cereal and another area that I've been experimenting with. I don't know what your thoughts are on oat milk, Chris.

CK: Now you know what, almond milk I sometimes put on cereal. But oat milk. It's not white. It's sort of got this beige this color. And there's something odd about it. I don't love oat milk.

DP: I'll grant you that some brands are better than others. Some of them to me this sort of mouthfeel is off. (Yeah) but if you find one you really like their salt in oat milk, at least the brands that I like. And so it's like it has the sort of creaminess and sweetness of milk but with a savory note that you don't get with milk. And I think that makes it incredible. Tell me about your breakfast cereal game. Chris, what's your go to? I mean, like, I imagine growing up in your house like you guys probably weren't allowed sugar cereals. It was probably just sort of like Weetabix.

CK: You know upon occasion you have a pined about what my childhood was like, my childhood home. And sometimes you hit the nail on the head you know little Lord Fauntleroy. But no, no. I ate Sugar Pops, Frosted Flakes the worst possible. Sugar Pops was my favorite. (Okay) because I liked the song sugar pops are tops. (Right, right) So no, I ate the worst, most sugary syrup.

DP: Have you ever tried adding salt to any of them?

CK: No, but I'll tell you in desserts years ago, I found that I started adding salt to every dessert, especially chocolate really needs salt. But I find that salt really make something sweet. tastes so much better.

DP: 100% Yeah, I can't eat ice cream without it now without a little sprinkle. But the other thing that I've started doing is I'm salting my breakfast cereal in the morning. And then I'm at night I created something for my kids called Cereal Sundays when I want to give them dessert, but I don't want it to be too over the top. Give them like a bowl of cereal with like maybe a little bit of a chocolate syrup, drizzle and a sprinkle of salt. And the syrup convinces them that it's dessert, almost like an ice cream sundae. What do you think?

CK: As soon as we get off this call, I'm calling Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and suggest that the Pashman family go into a 20-year health trial to see how this all works out for your your children.

DP: I'm telling you, Chris, I want when we get off this call, I want you to go get yourself a bowl of cereal and some Malden salt and some chocolate syrup.

CK: Plain Cheerios is sort of the healthy type I kind of like because it doesn't have much added sugar to it. That's pretty good. (All right) but I think you're right adding adding salt just in general to something sweet. And that's why you know, salted caramel is such a popular flavor. I think that says it all right.

DP: Do you ever mix different cereals Chris?

CK: Oh, my lord. Isn't there a law about this somewhere? Like what do you mix for example. Captain Crunch

DP: I mean, almost brunch with you. I don't eat captain crunch that cuts the roof of your mouth that leads to a medical condition that I've dubbed Captain Crunches complaint. Very serious. It's really a design flaw. But I think that, you know, I think there's a lot of great cereal combinations. To me, the big thing is you got to really take into account not just the flavor, but the rate of milk absorption of your different cereals because like you know that's you have a very dense hearts here like Cracklin Oat Bran, which is really great when it soaks up some milk and softens but it's got to soften. You can't put that in with like Fruity Pebbles, which have a very narrow window of optimal consumption. So, you may be putting the one in first and let it marinate a little bit then add the second one. Otherwise, you need to be thinking about combining cereals that have a similar rate of milk absorption.

CK: I just want to point out a historical note which I'm sure you're aware of the Kellogg brothers started they wanted people to eat a more wholesome diet, so they started cereals that were whole grain etc. And so it was a hell it was part of the health food movement right with Graham, Dr. Graham

DP: and that's right and Post who is also a disciple yes.

CK: and Post who stole some of the techniques from Kellogg while staying at the institute. But now look where we are. They will be rolling in their graves if they saw what happened to breakfast cereal.

DP: I think that John Harvey Kellogg would be rolling in his grave but as I understand it, his brother, who sort of wrested control of the company from him was the one who started putting sugar on the cereals to make them sell more. They had a little bit of a split over the health. So, I think that the other Kellogg brother would be happy with me.

CK: There's always a dark one in every family. So, let's just go back is breakfast cereal for you pure unadulterated joy or is it about convenience? So, in other words, if you could have anything you wanted for breakfast, what would you eat?

DP: I mean, certainly, if I'm eating breakfast cereal convenience is a part of it. It's something that I want, I want something quick. I do also like more healthy cereals as soon as I go sort of half a healthy cereal, half of a sugar cereal, you know, but to me, cereal remains an incredibly fun food. You know, you need no culinary ability if you have a few different boxes of cereal in your house open anytime you can mix and match and create different ratios and different eating experiences. You can add salt, you can add nuts, you can add chocolate syrup, you can add dried fruits. It's such an easy way to have fun in the kitchen and be creative and like make your own masterpiece. Why wouldn't you want to do that? And kids love doing that. So, I will always be a breakfast cereal lover.

CK: Well, Dan, as you know, we give cooking classes over zoom. So, we're going to sign you up for the next month so you can teach your breakfast cereal mix and match class

DP: you got it

CK: it's going to sell out in two days.

DP: Seriously. Yeah, exactly. I think Peter souffle class might get overlooked Chris.

CK: So, Dan, as usual, bring sound culinary advice, salt your breakfast cereal, and mix up different flavors. Dan, thank you.

DP: Thanks, Chris. Take care.

CK: That was Dan Pashman, host of the Sporkful podcast. That's it for today. You can find all of our episodes at Milk Street or wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn more about us at 177 Milk There you can become a member and get full access to every recipe. All live stream cooking classes free standard shipping from the Milk Street store and more. You can also learn about our latest cookbook, Milk Street Simple. You can find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and kitchen questions and thanks as always from listening.

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, Senior Editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole Massachusetts. Theme music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.