The Rediscovery Of The Colorado Orange Apple
In Colorado they have rediscovered a long-lost apple, the Colorado Orange apple. Jude Schuenemeyer talks about the discovery.
Heard on Weekend Edition Sunday
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:As the decade comes to a close, we can now report that, in fact, you can mix apples and oranges – well, kind of. In the western United States, apple anthropologists are excited about the rediscovery of an apple variety that was believed to be extinct. It’s called the Colorado Orange apple. Jude Schuenemeyer of the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project in southwestern Colorado helped track down the orange apple. We asked him what makes it so special.
JUDE SCHUENEMEYER: So the Colorado Orange is a mix of sweet and tart. Being a winter apple, the flavor opens up over time. So winter apples, like the Colorado Orange, you wouldn’t even think of starting to eat until Christmas. You’d go through all your summer apples, all your fall apples. You’d have these in the root cellar. And then starting Christmas, you’d start to pull these out. And month by month, the flavor would open up. A little bit of the sweet would go – a little bit of the tang might. But they were still going to be very flavorful. They have some of the most complex flavors of any apples you’ll ever have. Culinary-wise, they have some of the most complex flavors you’ll ever have in anything.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Colorado Orange was popular in the late 1800s. But around the 1940s, it started to disappear.
SCHUENEMEYER: The biggest thing it had going against it was that it was a yellowish-orange-ish-glowed apple at a time when America was going into monoculture where shiny, red apples were considered the only apples worth buying. It wasn’t because it was bad quality or didn’t grow well. It lost out, like so many of the thousands and thousands of apple varieties that have gone extinct. It lost out because it wasn’t the shiny, red apple.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Schuenemeyer says locals around Canyon City, Colo., cherished the orange apple.
SCHUENEMEYER: They knew it was a really high-quality apple, winner apple, good keeping apple. And in Canyon City, the memory of it was kept alive for a long time. And the old timer’s like, oh, yeah. I used to have a tree. It died. But we kept thinking there was still going to be one around. We felt like we could still find one.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so he and his wife, Addie, started combing the state.
SCHUENEMEYER: Two years ago, we were in Canyon City in this orchard in December. And this person, Mr. Diana, said, hey. I’ve got a tree also. And he took us to a tree. My wife Addie and I looked at it. And lo and behold, on the ground underneath the tree in the duff, there were these orange-blushed apples. And then on the tree, there were some of the apples still hanging. And it had that really good, sub-acid, flavorful taste that you’d expect from a winter Apple. So yeah. It was a a big moment for us.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the Shuenemeyers have been careful and taking their time. They did cutting-edge DNA testing and compared their find to some archival wax apple replicas at Colorado State University. They wanted to make sure they’d found the actual orange apple of memory.
SCHUENEMEYER: Because it’s considered extinct, there’s probably never an absolute. But we’ve got as close to an absolute as we can. Between this newest new DNA technology, the historical purveyors of the orchard itself and the waxed apple to compare it to, that’s an extraordinary amount of information that most people would never be able to have to compare anything.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so in a couple of years, once the young trees get going, keep your eyes open in the produce section for something new. And please restrain yourself from asking Jude Schuenemeyer about mixing apples and oranges.
SCHUENEMEYER: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah. People – when they hear of the Colorado orange, they definitely wonder what we’re talking about. That’s for sure.
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