Alert – Poisonous Courgettes!

Last Saturday evening we sat down to what should have been a tasty dinner of fish pie, carrots and home-grown courgettes.  However as soon as we started eating, it was apparent there was something seriously wrong.  An incredibly unpleasant bitter taste.  ‘Revolting’ said Richard, spitting out a mouthful.  What could possibly be wrong?  We couldn’t understand it.  The courgettes fried in butter were terrible, but the taste seemed to permeate the whole meal.  I had to throw the lot away, but the taste remained in the mouth.

Later on, I found the cut end of the courgette and licked it.  Lo and behold, it was incredibly bitter. 

This was hard to understand too, as we’d already had a couple of lovely courgettes from the allotment.  I Googled ‘Bitter Courgettes’ and soon found myself in the ‘Brighton and Hove Allotment Federation’ reading a whole lot of tales of woe not only from Brighton but from the whole country.  Very many bitter home-grown courgettes – and more importantly, many tales of quite severe stomach upsets.  The blame largely, but not exclusively, lies with a particular batch of Fothergill’s seeds, and yes, my seed packet was one of the culprits. 

Fothergills have recalled the offending batch of ‘Courgette Zucchini’ seeds.  They say that the problem is due to unusually high levels of cucurbitacins, a naturally occurring compound that is present in all courgettes, cucumbers and squash.  There were apparently issues with cross-pollination in the seed production cycle, undetectable in the seeds.

We ingested hardly any of our offending courgette as it was too disgusting to swallow.  This was fortunate.  Richard had no ill effects at all and I just had a very slight ‘episode’.  Fothergills suggested we should lick the cut courgette ends to identify the rogue plants.  Licking in itself is harmless.  I undertook this task yesterday on the allotment with some trepidation, and sure enough, a courgette from one plant tasted horribly bitter, and courgettes from the other two plants were fine.  I’ve pulled up the bad plant and will burn it. 

So this is just to alert you, best to lick your courgettes before you cook them!  Fothergills are sending me a replacement packet of courgette seeds of a different type.

Rosemary Harris

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