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 partyβ€”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.



39 thoughts on “Fructus

  1. I never knew about Nix vs Hidden, I’ll have to look that one up. As always, this is a beautiful post, Kate. I love your stories and how you weave everything together through history, literature and real life. And now I have craving for a tomato.

  2. Ergo, if the “authorities” have a purpose, they can always make an argument to support it: “. . . proposed United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Drug Administration directive, early in the presidency of Ronald Reagan, that would have reclassified ketchup and pickle relish from condiments to vegetables, allowing public schools to cut out a serving of cooked or fresh vegetable from hot lunch program child-nutrition requirements.” See:

    1. That’s amazing, Karen: as usual, your research finds a fresh new angle. It is frightening how a seemingly simple piece of legislation can have subtexts which are far reaching…

    1. Now I simply HAVE to go out and buy the stuff to make a fresh fruit salad, Tammy! You always have this effect on me. I just wish I could grow more fruits…local ones are nice but at this time of year the Summer ones get much more expensive.

  3. This is a lovely and tantalizing ode to the wonders of nature’s bounty, Kate. With the abundance of gorgeous fruit and vegetables most of us can purchase without restriction, I wish we all paid homage similarly. It’s a shame we forego the rich beauty for the empty and nutritionally deficient “junk” calories we so often substitute! Tying to Darcy? Well done! πŸ™‚ Debra

  4. Only in America would we go to court to argue over what is a fruit………Sigh.

    My Dukan-izing has left me off fruit until recently. But. When I was in Denver last week, my dear friend Joanna gave me a whole sack of just picked apples. I’m trying to dole them out to myself and not eat the whole bag at once. πŸ™‚

    And, I am with you on the glories of the tomato, especially paired with moz cheese, basil and good olive oil. I could eat platters of it.

  5. * It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato. ~ Lewis Grizzard

    * A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins. ~ Laurie Colwin

    * A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do. ~ P.J. O’Rourke

    * Knowledge is knowing the tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting in your fruit salad. ― Miles Kington

  6. As much as I enjoyed this post, it brings to mind that due to having pretty bum intestines my gastroenterologist forbids me to eat so many of the fruits I love with the tomato at the top of the list. No more pasta with Bolognese sauce, no more pizza and no more slices of it with fresh mozzarella and basil and a crusty baguette for me. Taxes are cruel, but sometimes just how life unfolds where one finds oneself denied so many of the most wonderful dining pleasures due to health reasons can be even crueler. I like being alive so I go along with forfeiting food with flavor, but I anticipate the day is nearing when I’ll be sustaining myself with just the most boring of basics, bread and water.

    1. Oh, Lameadventures, bad luck. Although bread is another favourite of mine. I know it’s evil to those of us who try to stay slim but there are so many kinds, home-made top of my list. We have a breadmaker which we use most days, and make bread with nice bits in. I must write a bready post soon.

      1. My friend Martini Max frequents an Italian bakery in New Jersey that makes this incredible bread that contains bits of prosciutto. Max is now on a hardcore diet so I haven’t had that bread in ages. You’re right, Kate, bread can be quite good.

  7. Our late president Ronald Reagan declared ketchup a vegetable. So, it might be argued that the product it came from – tomatoes – was also. To me, tomatoes are a wonderful reminder of when my Mom grew them and we devoured them in a variety of ways: spaghetti sauce, tomato juice, and tomatoes sliced and added to a grilled cheese sandwich. Yum.

    I lived in New York and was unaware of that historic challenge. Thanks, as always, for your wonderfully written historic posts.

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