One summer day, when I was a college, I spent some time working on my father’s place in near Sebastopol in Sonoma County. One particular afternoon, I was helping him dig a new septic line. It was pretty hot, and I worn out, and pretty darn hungry.
“Lunch?” My dad said, “You want lunch already?” It was pushing 1:00 mind you. Yes I wanted lunch. I needed fuel.
My father scowled. This was a very touchy subject. After my father left my mother, he and his new wife had settled on this five-acre apple farm. My father didn’t feel he had to pay alimony or child support, so he didn’t. “I don’t have a dime, judge. Everything I own is in apples,” he’d claim.
So one day, he and wife #2 showed up at the home he'd abandoned. They presented fifteen year-old me with a dozen or so boxes of Gravenstein apples. “You can make apple sauce, apple pie, apple butter…you won’t go hungry,” my stepmonster cackled.
Dad never paid up. My mother arranged for me to get free lunches at school, and I learned the benefits of hanging around my friends’ houses around dinner time to score a meal.
Three years later, I’d been coaxed into augmenting my summer income by helping my father with some projects. “Free room and board”, he promised. “And I’ll pay you what you’re worth.” I thought it might be a chance to mend fences with my father.
After five hours of manual labor in the hot August sun, lunch seemed to be a reasonable request.
“I’ve got a better idea,” Dad said. He walked over to a nearby tree and plucked a rather strange-looking fruit. He tossed it to me, along with a pocketknife.
“What’s this?” I said.
“The fruit of the quince,” he replied. “You never heard of it, college boy? It’s in a lot of the food you eat every day. Have a bite.”
Yes, I was a city boy, a suburban kid. I’d done a lot of hiking and camping in my day, I even lived on a farm one summer. But there was still a lot I didn’t know about the more agrarian side of life. Of course, you’d think that I’d learned to be wary of my father’s odd sense of humor by then, too.
I sliced a wedge and took a big bite. Sour, bitter and tart only begin to describe the explosion of horrid tastes that seared my mouth. Major food ingredient? Well, yeah, technically. Quinces are a source of pectin, an essential element in the processing of jams and jellies.They are not fit to be eaten raw and unripe by anybody. I bent over our newly-dug ditch and retched.
“Lunchtime!” my stepmonster yelled.
“Well, c’mon,” Dad said. “Hurry up…you said you were hungry.”
|The pretty flower of the quince tree|