Image Source: https://nationalpost.com/
With its tangerine-blushed peel, the Colorado Orange apple had one seemingly insurmountable strike against it. Long-lasting and hardy with a sweet-tart taste, its only obstacle was skin-deep: At a time when people were looking to buy red apples, it just so happened to be orange.
“It lost out, like so many of the thousands and thousands of apple varieties that have gone extinct,” Jude Schuenemeyer, who founded the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project (MORP) in southwestern Colorado with his wife Addie, told NPR in December. “It lost out because it wasn’t the shiny, red apple.
Now, after nearly two decades of searching, the Schuenemeyers have rediscovered the Colorado Orange, and hope it will soon be available at farmers’ markets, restaurants and grocery stores.
They first read about its unique qualities at a county fair. In 2014, they thought they had found the “lost” apple, but it turned out to be a false alarm. Despite the accounts of “many old-timers,” genetic fingerprinting revealed it to be a York Imperial.
Continuing their search over the years, there were more disappointments. But in December 2017, they had reason to be hopeful. The owner of a tree in Canyon City claimed it was a Colorado Orange and “the apples looked the part: oblate, ribbed, yellow and orange in colour, obviously a late-winter apple,” Addie told CNN.
They sent samples to horticulture scientists at the University of Minnesota for DNA testing and the results — “unique, unknown” — encouraged them. The next step was comparing some of the specimens they had gathered to four watercolours, each painted by a different United States Department of Agriculture artist in the early 1900s.
They needed more proof, which ultimately came in the form of a wax apple collection from the early 1900s “sitting in boxes at a retiring professor’s office” at Colorado State University. Among the 83 replicas of ribbon-winning apples from horticultural fairs past — each logged and indexed — was the Colorado Orange. The shape and colour were a match. “We cannot taste or smell or cut it open for comparison, of course, but this may be as close as we get,” the couple wrote. “Now we are 98 per cent sure give or take three per cent we have found the elusive Colorado Orange apple.”
In order to reestablish the once-lost apple, the Schuenemeyers have since started growing their own trees, which they’ve given to several farmers in the state. “We are the beneficiaries of the gift given to us from 150 years ago,” Jude told CNN. “But, it does us no good to be the only persons growing (it). Our steps now are to get it out to the people.”
They’ve received such an extraordinary number of requests for the Colorado Orange, they recently announced they’re placing five trees up for auction. The first auction will end on Oct. 3 and the minimum bid is $100, including shipping within the U.S.; proceeds will fund MORP’s preservation work.
The Colorado Orange was in its heyday in the late 1800s. A winter apple, its flavour blossomed over time, Jude explained. As people made their way through stores of summer and autumn apples, it sat in root cellars improving with each passing day. Once Christmas had arrived, the Colorado Orange — with its “tremendous complexity” — was ready to eat and would only get better leading up to July.