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Food and Drink

Branch out with your fall tastes



Know that great '70s song about Quinn the Eskimo? Come all without, come all within; you'll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn, it goes. Now with quince season upon us, keep on humming, but change that "Quinn" to "quince" for this ancient fruit is equally mighty - and mysterious.

Unless you grew up with them, the quince is pretty much an unknown factor in this neck of the woods. That's partly because most of us don't know what the heck to do with them once we find them, and partly because they're disease-prone, which we'll get to later.

Somewhere between a lumpy apple and a bumpy pear in shape, and similar in size but much harder, the quince sports a thick stem extruding from a knob that looks exactly like a fruit-ish belly button. They become a bit waxy as they ripen, changing from a siren green to a more mellow chartreuse or even golden colour, but they never really soften.

It's worth finding a quince, if only to inhale its glorious scent. (Good chance you'll spy some at your local farmers' market right about now.) Even though they'll be hard as rocks, the fragrance is loaded with a mouth-watering tang somewhere between tropical guava and tutti-frutti.

If nowhere else, you can find mighty quinces at Paulo's fruit stand, which is not far from Whistler, at least as the crow flies. By my reckoning, it's about 125 km east-north-east of the top of Burnt Stew Trail.

Paulo's green orchard and market garden defy the rabbit bushes and sage that normally claim the dusty brown banks of the Thompson River. Orchard, garden, home and accompanying fruit stand all colonize a steep bank on the east side of Highway 97, about 30 km before the crossing to Spences Bridge.

This time of year, you'll find Paulo looking after his little roadside stand, which has withstood the elements and the test of time for 48 years. Perched above it is a distinctively rustic, red and white hand-painted sign that I like to think of as an evil eye protecting all in its sightlines.

If you've whizzed past before and never stopped, do, if for nothing else than to visit Paulo and discreetly marvel at his wizened hands. They resemble branches from an old apple tree.

Eons ago, when he was a young man, Paulo left his home and the sheep he milked twice a day in Portugal to come to the arid Thompson Valley where he and his wife started their little miracle farm. Today, it boasts rows and rows of Bath grapevines, Roma tomatoes (great for fresh pasta sauce) and, of course, a couple of mighty quince bushes, or small trees, if you prefer.

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