Nutrition Column – Enjoy Fresh Colorado Produce

The fresh fruits and vegetables now lining the supermarket aisles create a rainbow of colors for the eyes and a feast of nutrients for the body. There, among the crimson cherries, purple cabbages, yellow squash, dark green melons, orange carrots and bright red tomatoes, you’ll find nutritious foods even your kids will love. And eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every day is the best way to get the important vitamins and minerals we need.

Welcome to summer in Colorado. Colorado boasts some of the very best produce around – from Rocky Ford melons and Olathe sweet corn to Pueblo peppers and Western Slope peaches, pears and nectarines. With our shorter growing season, the peak time for most locally grown produce is late July and early August.

One advantage of locally grown produce is that it’s picked and delivered to markets near its peak for ripeness and flavor potential. In contrast, fresh fruits and vegetables that make the journey from out of state (like early season peaches from California) generally are picked early in their ripening cycle and thus miss out on some of the potential for flavor development.

When selecting peaches, look for a soft, creamy-to-gold undercolor. If you’re planning to eat the peaches right away, select fruit that has begun to soften and smells "peachy." Be careful not to squeeze peaches when checking for firmness as they bruise easily and develop decay rapidly. Firm-ripe peaches may be kept at room temperature for a few days to fully ripen. Fully ripe peaches should be kept refrigerated until ready to use. Avoid purchasing green or shriveled peaches, as they will not ripen properly.

Pears are ripe when they yield to gentle thumb pressure at the neck. Honeydew and cantaloupe are ripe when the ends of the melon yield slightly to pressure and they emit a distinctly sweet fragrance. Ripe cantaloupe will be uniformly flesh colored on the outside, with little or no green; honeydew will have a velvety feel and a yellowish white to creamy rind color. A stem that is still attached indicates the melon was picked before it was ripe (this is true for peaches, oranges and nectarines, too). Melons can be stored for several days in a cool place away from sunlight.

For greater variety of color in your rainbow, try purple eggplant and red cabbage. The beautiful purple color of this cabbage – as well as red grapes, blackberries, blueberries and cherries – is from a pigment called anthocyanin, a potent antioxidant. These vegetables can be stored in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for several days.

For safety’s sake, be sure to wash all produce before eating. A soft scrub brush works well to get dirt and bacteria off produce with rough surfaces such as cantaloupes and carrots. Some produce, such as apples and cherries, can be washed before storing in the refrigerator. Others, such as leafy greens, maintain crispness best if washed just before serving.