Colorado isn't known for its apples, but a recently rediscovered orange-colored fruit might change that.
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Try describing the look and taste of a Honeycrisp apple. Even when holding one in your hand, this task isn’t so easy. It’s red, and is, uh, crisp. But many of the thousands of known apple varieties have similar appearances and flavors. Nowadays, genetic testing can allow growers to confirm specific cultivars (in much the same we can learn that a wine grape variety has been mislabeled for decades), but attempting to rediscover “lost” apple varieties that are only preserved through historical records is more akin to detective work… and in the end, you simply hope you got the right suspect.

After two decades of sleuthing, Addie and Jude Schuenemeyer—founders of the Colorado-based Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project—are officially saying “case closed” on one of their apple hunts. Addie says they are now “98 percent sure, give or take 3 percent” that they’ve rediscovered a local variety once thought to have disappeared: the Colorado Orange apple.

Colorado Orange Apple
Credit: Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project

The couple originally read about the Colorado Orange (it’s an orange-hued apple, not a literal orange) at a county fair years ago. By 2014, a solid lead seemed fruitful, but genetic testing revealed that those apples were actually York Imperials. Their search continued, however, and in December 2017, a possible remaining tree in Canyon City panned out. This time, genetic tests came back negative (a good thing since the Colorado Orange variety predates genetic tracking), and an in-person comparison to a century-old wax recreation sealed the deal.

Colorado Orange Apple
Credit: Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project

“Because it’s considered extinct, there’s probably never an absolute,” Jude told NPR back in December. “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.”

Even more exciting, the couple recently told CNN that Colorado Orange apples will hopefully be available for consumers in the not-too-distant future. “These varieties represent a real economic opportunity for growers in rural Colorado to put orchards back in these historical areas and give them a chance to make a living on the legendary quality fruit that was once a hallmark for our state,” Jude told the news site. Speaking specifically of the Colorado Orange, he added, “Our steps now are to get it out to the people.”

Through the use of grafting, the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project has reportedly provided about a half-dozen orchards in the state with Colorado Orange apple trees created from the lone one that was rediscovered. The hope is that the fruit will be available in stores and farmer markets in the next five to ten years. Historically, Jesse Frasier of Fremont County, who described the variety over 100 years ago, wrote, “It is the longest keeper I know and of excellent quality.” The apples are said to be firm, crisp, and juicy with a distinctly rich, high aromatic, sub-acid flavor, Addie told me via email.

“We have had the opportunity to taste the apples once when we first found them,” she explained. “Despite being in the middle of December after a hard frost they were still firm, juicy with a tang. We know the apple is good for fresh eating, and like most winter ripening apples, we bet it will be great in pie. Likely will be good in cider too. Cannot wait to find out.” Consider it a taste test generations in the making.