A hasty repost today about a great way to indulge.
Rarely, in the field of law, has so much depended on one little red sphere.
The taxman, as we know, is always right. I know that, because here, he can make a mistake, and when he notifies me he has made an error I have to clear it up.
We have horror stories on this island, of our Inland Revenue accidentally paying citizens more than they should: and then simply turning up one day and demanding hundreds and hundreds of pounds with all speed.
But our tale concerns the New York tax man, a definite entity, and not one whom I imagine would suffer challenge lightly.
Edward L. Hedden, Collector of the Port of New York, was responsible for enforcing a Tariff Act, instigated in 1883.
This tightly woven piece of law required that a tax be paid on all imported vegetables.
Ten years after the tax’s introduction, a certain Nix family imported a shedload of tomatoes and paid their duties: but, they argued, they should not have to, because the tomato is not a vegetable at all. It is a fruit.
And they fought it out in a court of law in the infamous tomato-based case, Nix V Hedden.
Botanically, as it turns out, they were quite right. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a fruit as ‘a seed with its envelope, ‘ and other definitions include a ‘seed bearing structure’.
That’s a tomato all right.
But no New York official is about to let a botanical definition push him around. Tomato Schomato.
The court ruled that the botanical definition was a load of baloney. The law must stand by the ‘ordinary’ meaning of the word ‘fruit’ and ‘vegetable’.
That, in New York, constituted a legal argument, and if vegetable importers didn’t like it, they could import sprouts instead.
To me, a tomato will always be a fruit; but I have had my tastes irreparably ruined.
Because once, I tasted the nearest to a celestial tomato one could imagine. And now, I find it almost impossible to shake the memory.
It was after a journey along the Route Napoleon.
Hairy is the word for the ribbon of tarmac which teeters on the edge of the Alps. But our arrival at the villa was worth the trek: and there was a present. Basil and tomatoes.
They tasted of sunshine and sophistication, of scarlet and sun-kissed days. We ate them al fresco, which for us in Britain is a rare event. We sat there in the open air, at the French tiled table.
Fruit is pure enjoyment.
I would hazard a guess that Jane Austen was not a food buff. When she mentions food, it is so often in passing and she shows scorn for those who over indulge.
But when Elizabeth Bennett finally realises what a prize Darcy might be: when she eventually glimpses his promise: it is telling indeed that Austen uses the fruit piled high on the table to express the piquant promise the man holds.
Social niceties dictate that after Miss Darcy pays a visit to her household, Elizabeth must reciprocate, visiting Darcy’s ancestral home.
Our taciturn hero is not home, but his sister and Miss Bingley are. The visitors are welcomed in: and presently it is time to dine. Yes, there is cold meat and cake: but the colour floods into the text with mention of the fruits from Darcy’s greenhouse: “There was now employment for the whole party—for though they could not all talk, they could all eat; and the beautiful pyramids of grapes, nectarines, and peaches soon collected them round the table.”
It was fruits which captured Jane’s palette, if we believe the evidence of one of her greatest texts. She has used it to symbolise promise, a tantalising taste of extravagance, a way of life not yet signed and sealed, but waiting in the wings.
The seed with its envelope is a parcel of promise. It might have exempted a whole shipment from New York taxes. When we remember times we tasted beautiful fruit, the quality of the memory stays crystal clear: sometimes, if one has the presence of mind to write it down, across centuries.
Every time we take a bite, we join a timeline which began with a forbidden fruit tree in a garden.
Fruit is the most elemental of pleasures.