CROP OF THE WEEK: CANTALOUPE
• Since the eastern soils and climate of North America weren't well suited for cantaloupes, commercial production eventually moved into the western states, and today most of the cantaloupes produced in the U.S. are grown in Arizona and California.
• Yuma County has two growing seasons for melons, with the bulk of production in the spring and a smaller season in the fall. In 2009, Yuma County farmers produced about 3,500 acres of cantaloupes valued at $28.7 million. About 800 acres of cantaloupe are grown as a fall crop.
• The great taste of a juicy sweet cantaloupe comes with a very small caloric price: only 50 calories per 6-ounce slice. One serving (1/4th of a medium melon) provides more than 400 percent of your daily vitamin A and nearly 100 percent of your daily vitamin C and are a good source of potassium and small amounts of many other minerals.
• The rind also is rich in nutrients so the whole melon may be juiced.
• What Americans call cantaloupes are actually muskmelons. True cantaloupes are not netted, have smooth to rough skin and are not commercially grown in the United States. Europeans recognize a clear distinction between cantaloupes and muskmelons.
• The true “cantaloupe” (Cucumis cantalupensis) from Cantalupo, Italy, is actually a hard-shelled melon that is not grown much outside the Mediterranean countries.
• Leaving an uncut cantaloupe at room temperature for two to four days makes the fruit softer and juicier.
• Good-quality cantaloupe will have large webbing or netting on the skin, yellow/orange coloring and will be slightly soft on the stem end (firm elsewhere). They will also have a good cantaloupe smell on the stem end, and the scar at the stem end should be a smooth and well-rounded cavity. Finally, you can hear the seeds rattle inside a juicy melon when shaken. Cantaloupe is grown in soil so you may see a slightly whitened area on one side. This does not affect the quality of the melon.
• Avoid cantaloupes with a rough stem end or with portions of the stem remaining — this means the melon was harvested too early and not at the peak of sweetness. Melons with green coloring, soft or sunken spots or dark and dirty spots that look moldy are all signs of poor quality.
• Cantaloupe has been around since ancient Roman times. Brought to the New World on one of Columbus' voyages in seed form, he later reported seeing it cultivated by the Indians. Commercial production of cantaloupe in the U.S. began in the mid-1800s.
• Add cantaloupe cubes or balls to fruit salads or serve small cantaloupe wedges as an edible garnish for breakfast, lunch or dinner entrees. Try a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to enhance the flavor of a cantaloupe.
• Yuma-grown cantaloupes rarely get wet in the field and are grown on raised beds so only the roots get wet. Listeria and other dangerous food borne microbes tend to multiply in wet, moist environments. Yuma melons are packed and kept dry from field to fork. Additionally, in Yuma, where many of the fall cantaloupe is grown, growers follow a strict collection of strict food safety guidelines.
Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at email@example.com or 726-3904.