Sep 242017
 

Today is the birthday (1890) of Sir Alan Patrick Herbert CH, usually known as A. P. Herbert, English humorist, novelist, playwright and law reform activist who served as an Independent Member of Parliament (MP) for Oxford University from the 1935 general election to the 1950 general election, when university constituencies were abolished. His most famous short stories, first published in Punch under the general title Misleading Cases, are fictitious law cases in which Herbert explores apparently absurd aspects of the law, and in which the protagonist, Albert Haddock, representing Herbert’s point of view, upholds his civil liberties by taking many to court, defending himself without counsel, and usually winning. Herbert himself said “Albert Haddock made his first public appearance, in Punch, in 1924. I have always understood that I invented him: but he has made some disturbing escapes into real life.” Over his lifetime Herbert published five collections: Misleading Cases in the Common Law, More Misleading Cases, Still More Misleading Cases, Codd’s Last Case, and Bardot M.P.?.

Herbert was born in Ashtead in Surrey and attended New College, Oxford where he received a first in Schools in Jurisprudence in 1914. He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as an ordinary seaman after the outbreak of World War I, later serving as an officer with the Royal Naval Division. He fought in the Gallipoli campaign and on the Western Front, becoming his battalion’s adjutant in 1917, following which he was injured and did not return to the front line before the end of the war. Following the war, he published The Secret Battle and joined the permanent staff of Punch in 1924. He also wrote the librettos for several musicals.

Herbert was elected as the Independent MP for Oxford University in the 1935 general election. Before the outbreak of World War II, Herbert campaigned for private member’s rights, piloted the Matrimonial Causes Act 1937 through Parliament, opposed the Entertainments Duty and campaigned against the Oxford Group. He enlisted in the River Emergency Service in 1938 and served in World War II as a Petty Officer in the Royal Naval Auxiliary Patrol. He captained the river boat, Water Gipsy, assigned to the River Thames. In 1943, he was part of a parliamentary commission sent to investigate the future of the Dominion of Newfoundland.

Herbert loved the River Thames and lived beside the river in Hammersmith in West London. He was a Conservator (a member of the Thames Conservancy Board) and a Freeman of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen. In 1966 he wrote The Thames in which he explored numerous aspects of the river.

In the last days of 1970, Herbert was taken to Middlesex Hospital in Fitzrovia, following a seizure that affected his left side and arm. Within six weeks, he was home again, and over many months his physical powers waned. In August 1971, he wrote his last letter to The Times, an appeal for parliamentary good manners in refraining from “witty derision of the literary exertions of Mr Harold Wilson” and of the “marine activities” of Edward Heath. By then, he was describing himself as “a recumbent nuisance.” He died on 11 November 1971, and obituaries were published in both The Times and Punch. The Times supplemented their obituary notice with a leading article. They described him as having done “more than any man of his day to add to the gaiety of the nation.”

Herbert’s most famous fictitious case is undoubtedly Board of Inland Revenue v Haddock (also known as the Negotiable Cow). The case has evolved into an urban legend. In this case, Albert Haddock had been in disagreement with the Collector of Taxes over the size of his tax bill. Haddock complained that the sum was excessive, particularly in view of the inadequate consideration he believed that he received from that Government in service. Eventually the Collector demanded £57 and 10 shillings. Haddock appeared at the offices of the Collector of Taxes and delivered a white cow “of malevolent aspect”. On the cow was stenciled in red ink:

To the London and Literary Bank, Limited

Pay the Collector of Taxes, who is no gentleman, or Order, the sum of fifty seven pounds £57/0/0 (and may he rot!)

ALBERT HADDOCK

Haddock tendered the cow in payment of his bill and demanded a receipt.

During the hearing, the fictitious judge, Sir Basil String, enquired whether stamp duty had been paid. The prosecutor, Sir Joshua Hoot KC confirmed that a two-penny stamp was “affixed to the dexter horn of the cow.” The collector declined the cow, objecting that it would be impossible to pay it into a bank account. Haddock suggested that he endorse the cow to a third party to whom he might owe money, adding that “there must be many persons in that position.”

Sir Joshua informed the court that the collector did try to endorse the cheque on its back, in this case on the abdomen. However, Sir Joshua explained: “the cow … appeared to resent endorsement and adopted a menacing posture.” The collector abandoned the attempt and declined to take the cheque. Haddock led the cow away and was arrested in Trafalgar Square for causing an obstruction, leading to the co-joined criminal case, R. v Haddock.

He testified that he had tendered a cheque in payment of income tax. A cheque was only an order to a bank to pay money to the person in possession of the cheque or a person named on the cheque, and there was nothing in law to say it must be on paper of specified dimensions. A cheque, he argued, could be written on notepaper. He said he had “drawn cheques on the backs of menus, on napkins, on handkerchiefs, on the labels of wine bottles; all these cheques had been duly honored by his bank and passed through the Bankers’ Clearing House”. He thought that there was no distinction in law between a cheque on a napkin and a cheque on a cow.

When asked as to motive, he said he did not have a piece of paper to hand. Horses and other animals used to be seen frequently in the streets of London. He admitted on cross-examination that he may have had in his mind an idea to ridicule the taxman. “But why not? There is no law against ridiculing the income tax.” In relation to the criminal prosecution, Haddock said it was a nice thing if in the heart of the commercial capital of the world a man could not convey a negotiable instrument down the street without being arrested. If a disturbance was caused by a crowd, the policeman should arrest the crowd, not him. The judge, sympathetic to Haddock, found in his favor on the tax claim, but in favor of the prosecution for causing a disturbance. By tendering and being refused the cow, the Inland Revenue was estopped from demanding it later.

 

Negotiable instruments and other legal documents have been written on unusual surfaces. Documented cases provide illustrations of wills on the side of empty egg-shells, and cheques being written on a variety of strange surfaces. An often-cited example is a Canadian farmer who, while trapped under his own tractor, carved a holographic will into the tractor’s fender. The fender was probated and stood as his will, and is currently on display at the law library of the University of Saskatchewan College of Law. In Jewish law a get can be written on any durable material, including the horn of a cow. If the horn is still attached to the cow, the husband must give the wife the whole cow.

Board of Inland Revenue v. Haddock was dramatized for BBC television as “The Negotiable Cow” as the opening of the first series of A. P. Herbert’s Misleading Cases in 1967, with Roy Dotrice as Albert Haddock and Alastair Sim as Mr Justice Swallow. The BBC did not keep tapes of all its shows in those days but there are audio recordings of some and snippets available on YouTube.

In light of Herbert’s protagonist’s name, a dish of haddock is the order of the day I feel.  I enjoy a fillet of smoked haddock for breakfast, poached and served with a buttered crusty roll.  Haddock and chips also used to be a favorite of mine when I frequented chippies. Baked haddock is also a simple and satisfying dish. This is a classic English recipe.

Baked Haddock

Ingredients

2 lbs haddock fillets
salt and pepper
3 tbsp butter, melted (plus extra for greasing)
2 tsp lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
fresh parsley, chopped
crushed tarragon
paprika

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease a large shallow baking dish.

Pat the haddock dry and arrange it in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

In a small bowl, mix together the melted butter, lemon juice and minced garlic. Evenly brush the seasoned butter over the haddock fillets, then sprinkle the fillets with parsley, tarragon, and paprika.

Bake at 350 for 25-35 minutes or until it is opaque and flakes easily. Serve with poached asparagus or fresh green peas, (and lemon wedges if you like).

Apr 092017
 

Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, and the last Sunday in Lent. These days, ever since I left the U.S. and stopped preaching, Palm Sunday sometimes creeps up on my unawares.  Not this year, because I am paying attention, but in past years it has often caught me by surprise because I have been traveling for my birthday or the like. In 2012, for example, I was in Cusco for my birthday trip to Machu Picchu, and on the Sunday following I walked down to the center of town and came across dozens of women sitting in the street weaving crosses, crowns, and other decorations from palm fronds.  Everyone in town was carrying palms of some sort, and there was a generally festive atmosphere. At midday there was a gigantic parade of church and civic groups before the town’s dignitaries with hundreds of onlookers all around the main square and side roads.

The following year, again by surprise, I bumped into a local church procession in Buenos Aires near my apartment with congregants carrying olive branches and singing as they toured the block around the parish church. Palms are traditional in many countries because of the gospel narrative, but in quite a few places where palms were difficult to come by in the past, people carry, and wave, branches of olive, yew, box, willow, or other local native trees. Olive branches are standard in Rome and I believe that the custom was transferred to Argentina by Catholic monks from the Old World in colonial times even though palms are plentiful there. In fact in the gospels only John specifies palms. In the others they refer to “branches” and in Spanish this day is called domingo de ramos (Branch Sunday).

The narrative of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem a week before the Passover when he died is found in all the canonical gospels.  Here’s John (12:12-15):

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”

The quotation at the end comes from Zechariah’s messianic prophecy (9:9), and the shouts of the people come from the Psalms (188:25-26), leading a great many Biblical historians to question the historicity of the event. Did this really happen or is this a wishful (theologically apt) construction of the gospel writers to make a point, underscoring their beliefs concerning the upcoming Easter events? Jesus proved himself to be the foretold Messiah, so he must have entered the city as a peaceful king as foretold by the prophets.

There’s a lot of ancient symbolism thrown together here and the gospels do not exactly agree on specifics. In some cases there is clear confusion. Matthew for example commands his disciples (21:2-3), 2Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me.And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” Later (21:7) the disciples lay their clothes on the donkey AND the colt and set Jesus on BOTH of them – seemingly. How they managed this is a miracle in its own right. How does one ride two animals simultaneously? What seems likely is that Matthew’s Hebrew was not up to snuff and he misread (or misunderstood) the original from Zechariah which reads:

See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey

The original Hebrew is poetry using the frequent Hebrew poetic device of duplication for emphasis. Zechariah is not saying that the king comes riding on a donkey AND a colt, but that the donkey in question is a colt, the offspring of a donkey. Duh !! The fact that the triumphal beast of burden is a donkey and not a horse is also significant. The horse as a king’s mount is a symbol of war; the donkey is a symbol of peace.

It was not uncommon in the ancient Near East for people to spread clothes and branches in the path of a conquering hero. The specific identity of branches as palm fronds is unique to John. The palm was a very complex symbol in ancient times in both the Greco-Roman and Egyptian worlds which John was presumably familiar with. In the Roman Empire, which strongly influenced Christian tradition, the palm branch was a symbol of triumph and victory. It became the most common attribute of the goddess Nike or Victory. For contemporary readers of John, the procession would likely have evoked the Roman triumph, when the triumphator laid down his arms and wore the toga, the civilian garment of peace that might be ornamented with emblems of the palm. In ancient Egyptian religion, the palm was carried in funeral processions and represented eternal life. The palm branch later was used as a symbol of Christian martyrs and their spiritual victory or triumph over death.

This juxtaposition of life, death, and triumph brings us back to the events of Holy Week. Palm Sunday kicks off Holy Week which is a bittersweet moment in the Christian calendar observed by Catholics, Orthodox, and many mainstream Protestant denominations alike (even those that are not especially keen on Lent).  Holy Week is the climax of Jesus’ ministry when his role is made fully manifest. He preaches to huge crowds, performs miracles, and cleanses the Temple of moneychangers. He is both a hell raiser and pacifist bringing a new dispensation to the world. As such he is both praised and reviled: by the mob on the one hand, and by the Temple authorities on the other. The gospels cast the mob as terminally fickle, however. They are awed and excited by Jesus at the start of the week, and howling for his death by the end.

Jesus plays a cat and mouse game with the Temple authorities all week, openly preaching in the center of Jerusalem by day where he is kept safe by the crowds, but spiriting away in secret to the isolated suburbs at night where the authorities cannot find him until he is betrayed by one of his own. This is a teacher/preacher who has made a name for himself in the provinces but is now a grand celebrity in the capital and is making the most of it. Of course in Roman Imperial times this was an exceptionally dangerous game to play. The Romans were ever fearful of a Jewish uprising and there were many secret rebel groups bent on violent action. The Romans had no compunction in killing off ringleaders if they caught them. Scholars debate endlessly to this day as to whether it was the Romans or the Temple leaders who were responsible in actual historical fact for Jesus execution and I will have much more to say about this on Maundy Thursday. For now I will note that starting with the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday the gospel writers are setting the stage for a showdown between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, and the Romans are very much in the background, seemingly innocent bystanders. I suspect that the Romans were taking much more notice than they are reported to have been.

My Lenten wreath today has only the central Christ candle lit as a stark reminder that while the world temporarily rejoices, the light of the world is moving on to face his death alone. Holy Week was a very lonely time for Jesus despite all the hustle and bustle in Jerusalem. I will extinguish the Christ candle on Good Friday.

Hearts of palm are the obvious ingredient of choice for today. Heart of palm is harvested from the inner core and growing bud of certain palm trees (notably the coconut (Cocos nucifera), Palmito Juçara (Euterpe edulis), Açaí palm (Euterpe oleracea), sabal (Sabal spp.), pupunha and pejibaye (Bactris gasipaes) palms). Harvesting of many non-cultivated or wild single-stemmed palms results in the death of the tree (e.g. Geonoma edulis).  Some palm species, however, are clonal or multi-stemmed plants (e.g. Prestoea acuminata, Euterpe oleracea) and moderate harvesting will not kill the entire clonal palm.

An alternative to wild heart of palm are palm varieties which have been domesticated as farm species. The main variety that has been domesticated is Bactris gasipaes, known in Ecuador as chontaduro, in Brazil and Costa Rica as palmito, and in English as the peach palm. This variety is the most widely used for canning. They are self-suckering and produce multiple stems, up to 40 on one plant, meaning that modest annual harvesting does no damage to the main plant. Another advantage that the peach palm has over other palms is that it has been selectively bred to eliminate the vicious thorns of its wild cousins. Harvesting is still a labor-intensive task, and thus palm hearts are regarded as a delicacy in many parts of the world. In the U.S. they are readily available canned and are not expensive. I always kept a can or two on hand when I lived in NY.

As is common, I used to use hearts of palm in salads, or on their own with a simple dressing. As a salad component the sliced hearts add some texture and flavor to a salad. They come packed in an acidulated liquid (typically ascorbic acid), so they can be a bit astringent. I used to like to drink the canning liquid but it may not be to everyone’s taste. It’s a lot sweeter than pickle juices which I know some folks like. Salads made with all crispy components such as hearts of palm, green beans, and asparagus make a welcome change from their leafy brethren. As a simple side dish for the day – dripping with Holy Week symbolism – I suggest plain hearts of palm dressed with the flesh of passionfruit.

Hearts of palm can also be cooked. They can be plain grilled, or baked. In the latter case, slice them thickly then toss them with olive oil, finely diced garlic, chopped fresh parsley, and grated cheese. Bake in a hot oven until they are nicely golden.

Dec 242016
 

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Today is the Feast of the Seven Fishes in some parts of the Italian-American community. It is a Christmas Eve celebration, although it’s not called by this name in Italy and is not a “feast” in the strict sense of “church holy day” but, rather, a blowout meal. Strictly speaking, Christmas Eve is a vigil or fasting day, and the abundance of seafood reflects the Catholic tradition of abstinence from red meat until the actual feast of Christmas Day itself. Today in the Italian-American community Seven Fishes is a meal that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. It originates from (mostly) Southern Italy, where it is known simply as La Vigilia (short for Vigilia di Natale).

The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence from meat on Wednesdays, Fridays and (in the Latin Church) Saturdays, as well as during Lent and on the eve of specific holy days. The thing is that this supposed fast often transformed into an absolute feast of fish – especially in the Middle Ages, and beyond. Nowadays Christmas Eve dinner in Catholic countries in general can be an extremely lavish meal. In Argentina, for example, it is the main Christmas meal sprawling from about 10 pm to 4 am or longer. In Italy in general it is the time to (sometimes) go to Midnight mass, but always involves a special meal without meat. In Mantua, where I am now, the highlight is tortelli di zucca (with butter and sage) and maybe fish.

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It is unclear when the term “Feast of the Seven Fishes” was popularized. The meal may actually include seven, eight, or even nine specific fishes that are considered traditional. However, some Italian-American families have been known to celebrate with nine, eleven or thirteen different seafood dishes. “Seven” fishes as a fixed concept or name is unknown in Italy itself. In some of the oldest Italian-American families there was no count of the number of fish dishes. Dinner began with whiting in lemon, followed by some version of clams or mussels in spaghetti, baccalà, and onward to any number of other fish dishes without number. Seven is a nice lucky number, though.

The most famous dish for Southern Italians is baccalà (salted cod fish). The custom of celebrating with a simple fish such as baccalà reflects customs in what were historically greatly impoverished regions of Southern Italy, as well as seasonal factors. Fried smelts, calamari and other types of seafood have been incorporated into the Christmas Eve dinner over the years.

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Salt cod goes on sale in Italy well before Christmas. It keeps forever, so you can buy it well in advance.  You also need to begin preparation at least 3 days in advance. It must be soaked for 3 days or more to remove the salt and soften the flesh. This recipe is for baked baccalà which is less common than the normal method of simmering, but I prefer it.

Baked Baccalà

Ingredients

1 ¼ lb dried salt cod
2 large potatoes, sliced in thin rounds
1 yellow onion, sliced thinly
3 tbsp butter, chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
crushed hot pepper (optional)
freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Soak the baccalà in cold water for at least 3 days prior to cooking.

Preheat your oven to 375˚F.

Rinse the cod for a last time; dry it well and cut it into small pieces. In a shallow casserole dish, toss the potato rounds and onion slices with the butter and olive oil. Add the baccalà and gently toss. Season with crushed red and black peppers. Cover the casserole with foil and place into the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Add a bit of water, about 2 tablespoons, if needed, during cooking; continue to stir while cooking, but gently to avoid breaking the fish. Season with salt, if needed.

Serve drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.