Aside from woodcarving, what makes Paete famous is lanzones. Lanzones (Lansium domesticum, L) is called the "aristocrat" of fruits and it is in Paete that most of it is grown.
It grows out of slender tree in bunches that look much like grapes but with thicker and stronger stems. The fruit is covered with a leathery skin that turns yellow when ripe. Press the fruit between your fingers to open and you will see luscious translucent sections, each containing a bitter seed. You don't eat the seed - just the juicy sweet-sour pulp around it.
Before electricity came to Paete one could swear that stars had come down from the skies on summer nights as tiny twinkling dots lit up the entire face of the mountain. They were not stars, of course - just hundreds of small kerosene lamps that people hang on lanzones trees to drive away birds and bats to prevent them from eating the ripening fruits.
The problem with lanzones as a crop is that it is seasonal. It produces fruits only in late September through early November and the rest of the year you wait. When the fruits are ripe the bunches are gathered and delicately packed in open baskets called "kaing" and sent to merchants in Manila where they are sold as "the food of romance." Courting couples inside movie houses and those taking a stroll in Luneta Park are said to favor this most prized fruit.
Part of the mystique of lanzones is a legend that originated in Paete, told and retold in Filipino children's books, a variation of which made it to Dean S. Fansler's FILIPINO POPULAR TALES (Folklore Assoc., Hatboro, PA 1965), p. 401:
Once upon a time the fruit of the lanzones tree was very poisonous. Its very juice could make a man sick until he dies. One day a very religious old man was passing through a forest to attend the fiesta of a neighboring town. When he reached the middle of the thick forest, he became very hungry and tired and felt he could go no further. No matter where he looked, he could see nothing but the poisonous lanzones. So he lay down on the soft grass. Hardly a moment had passed when a being from heaven approached him and said, 'My good Christian pilgrim, take some of these lanzones fruits, eat them, and you will be much relieved.' At first the old man would not do it but the heavenly being pinched the fruit with her fingers and handed them to the pilgrim. He then ate and soon his hunger was removed. After thanking heaven, he continued on to his pilgrimage. Ever since that time, lazones have been good to eat. All fruits still bear the marks of the heavenly being's fingers.
In Paete we just go right on and identify the "heavenly being" as the Virgin Mary - why quibble? The problem with this story is that no matter how much lanzones one ate, it would not fill one up. While lanzones quenches the thirst, it does not make one feel "busog."
My second disillusionment as regards lanzones from Paete was the belief that it was the sweetest of its kind. That was, until l went to the volcanic Camiguin island in Mindanao, where I saw younger lanzones trees that produced a sweeter kind of fruit. My childhood belief in Lanzones-Paete was shattered.
My third disillusionment was when, looking at a fruit basket that came from Burma - I saw lanzones there! And I thought all the time that lanzones only came from Philippines!
Perhaps I'm not romantic enough, but if there is a Paete fruit that I'd kill for, it's the "mami" (Calucarpum sapota, Jec.) Mami has never been given the same rave reviews as the lanzones, perhaps because it is so rare. In Manila I used to describe mami to friends, but they never heard of it. I firmly believed, then, that mami was grown nowhere else in the world but Paete. Then I went to Mexico where mami is so plentiful, they make a milk shake of it. And yes, they call it mami there, too. So now, I decided that the Paete fruit that I truly love is the "dambo" (Syzygium malaccense, L.) I'm sure dambo is found only in Paete or I would get it in California.
Having said that, the fact remains that for whatever reason, it was lanzones that placed Paete on the country's map. So be it. If you happened to be around Paete during lanzones season, do drop by and have a taste. You might like it more than I do.
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