Colorado is not known for as many fruits and vegetables as our coastal states, but there are a select few that grow exceptionally well here, and have unique essences thanks to the hot days, cold nights, volcanic soil, and snow melt run-off. They are mostly found on our state’s western slope and the Rocky Ford area. Among the best-known produce are Olathe corn, Palisade peaches, grapes (and, yes they are for wine!), and Rocky Ford Cantaloupe.
Rocky Ford melons are so well known that farmers from the area ship their seeds across the country, although the distinct Colorado flavor would be difficult to replicate without the large temperature swings, thought to lock in the sweetness and higher sugar content. Melons began being grown in the area when an insightful pioneer, G.W. Swink, saw potential in the land in the early 1880’s. He started his crop with watermelon, soon shipping as much as 300 tons of watermelons per year. Word spread quickly that the sweet melons were coming from Rocky Ford Colorado, and more farmers moved to the area to begin growing the lucrative melons.
G.W. Swink had been experimenting with growing cantaloupe, specifically a muskmelon named the Netted Gem Cantaloupe. He started selling the melons to miners in Leadville using wooden barrels, and the shipping of Rocky Ford cantaloupes began! The first out-of-state shipments were sent to St. Louis where they gained wild popularity, and then word of mouth brought them to New York where the melons were featured in the city’s most popular restaurants.
Cantaloupe has a diverse amount of dietary value. The refreshing summer favorite is also a nutritional powerhouse with high vitamin A and C content. They are also high in potassium, B vitamins and beta carotene. Surprisingly, the melons also contain the healthy omega-3 fat. The fruit provides anti-inflammatory anti-oxidants and a large amount of diverse phytonutrients. A guilt free sweet summer treat!
The cousin of cucumber and squashes, cantaloupe can be used in almost any type of recipe! The honey-like and light floral flavor of the melon lends itself well to summer salads, a compliment to strong cheeses, cold summer soups, or even sliced thin for sandwiches. The fruit can also be grilled and adds a nice sweetness to meats, like lamb and pork. The puree can be used for baking cakes and breads, and makes for a smooth naturally creamy sorbet. The cantaloupe is a great addition to cocktails too!
Here are few of our favorite cantaloupe recipes: