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Crop of the week: Cantaloupe
• Once again it's melon harvest season in the Yuma area, where people can enjoy juicy, tasty fruit fresh out of the field.
• In 2011, melon growers in Yuma County produced spring melons on roughly 5,200 acres valued at more than $4.6 million. The region has two growing seasons with the bulk of production occurring in the spring. About 1000 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 (half a medium melon) provides more than 400 percent of your daily vitamin A and nearly 100 percent of your daily vitamin C. They also are a good source of potassium and small amounts of many other minerals. The rind is rich in nutrients so the whole melon may be juiced.
• Cantaloupe has been around since ancient times of about 2400 B.C. Brought to the New World on one of Columbus's voyages in seed form, he later reported seeing it cultivated by the Indians.
• The true “cantaloupe” (Cucumis cantalupensis) from Cantalupo, Italy, is actually a hard-shelled melon that is not grown much outside the Mediterranean countries. It's actually muskmelons — with their soft rinds and netted surface markings — that are so popular worldwide.
• Good-quality cantaloupe will have large webbing or netting on the skin, will have yellow/orange coloring and 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. 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.
• For perfect flavor, let a cantaloupe sit at room temperature (not in the window) until it is ripe. If you like your cantaloupe cold, put it into the refrigerator after it has ripened.
• Add cantaloupe cubes or balls to fruit salads or serve small cantaloupe wedges as an edible garnish for breakfast, lunch or dinner entrees.
• Since the eastern soils and climate of North America weren't well suited for cantaloupes, commercial production eventually moved into the western states. Today, most of the cantaloupes produced in the U.S. are grown in Arizona and California.
Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at email@example.com or 726-3904.