Come all without, come all within; you'll not see nothing like the mighty quince. At least, nothing like the one that’s in my hand right now — it’s such a beauty that I’m sure it would cause even the mighty Dylan to forgive the usurping of the above line on its behalf.
It’s a hard dense fruit, this quince. Somewhere between a lumpy apple or a bumpy pear in shape, and much the same size, but with a much thicker stem extruding from a knob that looks as much like a fruit-ish belly button as anything ever did. Turn it on end and there’s a large leafy calyx on the bottom.
This quince has turned a bit waxy on the surface as it’s ripened from its earlier state, when it was the siren green of unripe Bartlett pear. Now it’s mellowing to the neon yellow-green of chartreuse, and even though it’s still hard as a rock, the fragrance — oh, the fragrance — is loaded with a mouth-watering tang somewhere between a tropical paradise that grows guavas and a certain tutti-frutti anchored in my teen years.
If you’ve never cozied up to a quince before, it’s worth buying one just to sniff it and dream.
This lumpy-bumpy quince that fascinates me so was plucked from an orchard not that far from Whistler, at least as the crow flies — by my best reckoning, about 125 km east-north-east of the top of Burnt Stew Trail.
Paulo’s orchard and market garden have defied the rabbit bushes and sage that normally claim the dusty brown banks of the Thompson River. It colonizes such a steep bank on the east side of Highway 97 that a mild earthquake would probably shake it into the river hundreds of feet below.
If you had such an inkling, you could get there quite handily by taking Highway 99 up through Lillooet and Pavilion, and hanging a right on Highway 97. Or if you’re up for more of a day trip, you could split off at Lillooet onto Highway 12 south, head back down to Lytton, then catch 97 north until you came to the bend in the road about 30 klicks before the crossing to Spences Bridge.
On any day of the week this time of year, there you will find Paulo looking after his little fruit stand. It’s only been there for the last 44 years, perched under the rustic red and white hand-painted sign that seems to protect it as handily as an evil eye from the vagaries of highway traffic, including the semis rumbling past with tonnes of Vancouver garbage bound for Cache Creek.