August is Colorado Proud Month, a time to support local growers and their incredible contributions to the culinary scene. To celebrate, we’re kicking off a new “What’s in Season” series spotlighting local farmers and the crops they produce. First up: Find out why Rocky Ford cantaloupes—which are hitting grocery stores now—are some of the sweetest, juiciest melons grown right in our own backyard.
What Makes Rocky Ford Cantaloupe So Delicious?
Good cantaloupes are soft, juicy, subtly sweet, and oh-so-refreshing on a hot summer day, while bad ones are often overly firm, crunchy, and flavorless—the parts you want to skip in a fruit salad. Rocky Ford cantaloupes fall in the first category, and there’s a reason why.
“With cool nights and the heat during the day, the variance in the temperature helps make the natural sugars,” says Brooke Proctor, a member of the Rocky Ford Growers Association along with her husband, Matthew. Their farm, Proctor Produce, is a third-generation melon farm in the southeast Colorado region. “We average over 100 degrees during the day (it can even get up to 110), and then in the evenings it’s 55 to 60 degrees, so that difference in the temperature creates more of the natural sugars in all the melons,” she says. “That’s what makes them so sweet.”
The same conditions also support the growth of the Proctors’ tasty watermelons and honeydew, both of which are also on their way to stores in the coming weeks.
The Proctors began pulling cantaloupe off the vine in late July (a bit later than usual due to late frosts that delayed their first planting), but the results are worth the wait. “Our crop is phenomenal,” Brooke says. “Not only is it beautiful, but it’s also really really high in sugar content; it’s very sweet, very juicy.”
This year’s crop also faced some hail damage, so they’re a little lighter on volume than other years. “So in other words, if you find ’em, get ’em,” Brooke says.
Meet the Growers
The Rocky Ford Growers Association is a group of four family farms growing cantaloupe, watermelon, and other crops in Otero County—many of them operated by third-, fourth-, fifth-, or even sixth-generation growers. While the association was formed in 2011, the farms have been operating since 1887—producing delicious fruit for nearly 135 years.
In fact, the region produces around 3 million cantaloupes and 1 million watermelons every growing season. Each farm in the growers association produces both cantaloupe and watermelon, but the families can also grow additional fruits as they see fit. The Proctors also plant honeydew, pumpkins, onions, corn, wheat, and hay.
The Proctors’ farm produces about 750,000 cantaloupes and 250,000 watermelons every year. Matthew is a third-generation grower, and their children are already involved as the fourth. “It’s something to be proud of that we can pass it down to our next generation,” Brooke says. “It also kind of holds us accountable to take care of our land and take care of our product and make sure that we’re the best quality we can be, so we can continue that process of passing it down generation after generation.”
How to Choose the Best Cantaloupe
“The first, easy thing I would say is [to check] that the netting on the melon itself is yellow,” Matthew says. “That’s usually a good indication that the melon has had a chance to be ripe.” Next, look at the area where the melon was attached to the vine. “We call it the slip,” Matthew says. “Normally if that has come off cleanly—like if you can put your finger on there there’s no stem left on it—that means it was a full slip, which means it was ready to be picked and in full sugar. If the stem has been ripped or if there’s still vine on it and the stem is still there, then it’ll still be good but it wasn’t at maximum sugar level.”
Rocky Ford Cantaloupe Sorbet Recipe
Rocky Ford cantaloupe tastes amazing straight off the vine, but this sorbet recipe by Emma Nemechek, the chef and owner of Sweetened Patisserie is so good it will have you hunting for cantaloupes until the season’s bitter end.
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 Tbs.. honey or corn syrup
2 lbs. Rocky Ford cantaloupe, seeded and diced
Make a simple syrup: Boil the sugar and water in a small saucepan until all of the sugar granules are melted. Set aside to cool.
Combine the cooled simple syrup, honey or corn syrup (this prevents crystallization while churning), and Rocky Ford cantaloupe and purée the mixture until smooth using a blender. Refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. In the meantime, chill your sorbet container in the fridge.
Blend the cantaloupe mix for 30 seconds before churning using your ice cream maker’s instructions. Transfer to the chilled container and freeze for 2 to 3 hours.