LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This week in our Farmers Market series, we head to rural Colorado about 50 miles east of Pueblo. There, the hot days and cool nights help farmers grow some of the sweetest cantaloupe in the world. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.
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JEFF BRADY: Just outside a community that bills itself as the sweet melon capital of the world, there's a parking lot full of cars and RVs. It looks like just about the busiest place in Otero County.
Ms. GAIL KNAPP (Owner, Knapp's Farm Market): My name's Gail Knapp. I'm the owner of Knapp's Farm Market in Rocky Ford, Colorado.
BRADY: Knapp has been selling cantaloupes for more than three decades, and she's always ready with advice for finding just the right one.
Ms. KNAPP: You're looking for something that's orange or yellow all over, in between the white netting.
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BRADY: And the skin should be just a little soft to the touch. If there's a nice honey smell surrounding the cantaloupe, you can be sure it's going to be good and juicy. Gail's husband, Brian, grows the melons on sale here. The farm is a short drive up the road. He watches as field workers pick only the melons that easily pull away from the vine.
Mr. BRIAN KNAPP (Owner, Knapp's Farm Market): If you do see them in the store where a lot of the stem is still stuck in the cantaloupe, that has been picked before it's vine ripened and so it's not going to have near the flavor or the sugar.
BRADY: Knapp says sugar content is the key to a good cantaloupe. Most measure somewhere around 13 percent. Rocky Ford cantaloupes are running up to 17 percent this year.
Mr. KNAPP: Nice, hot days and the limited moisture, sugar is definitely a lot higher. Right now, we're picking cantaloupes that the flavor is absolutely great.
BRADY: It's the hot days in Rocky Ford that create more sugar in the fruit, and the cool nights that slow down that process, allowing the sugar to accumulate. So these cantaloupes are sweeter than in places where the temperature is more constant.
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BRADY: Back at Knapp's Farm Market, few people seem interested in the science behind Rocky Ford cantaloupes - just the taste.
Willy Green grew up nearby and now lives in Saudi Arabia. He's visiting family and had to stop by for a melon.
Mr. WILLY GREEN: I have yet to really find a Rocky Ford that's bad. They always - they all have a really, really good flavor to them.
BRADY: Most of the melons are sold regionally, since they have a short shelf life. Rocky Ford cantaloupes are in season July through the first frost, which usually comes around the end of September.
Jeff Brady, NPR News.
WERTHEIMER: Find out more about Rocky Ford cantaloupes, and the other fruits and vegetables featured in our Farm Fresh series, at the new npr.org. There, you'll also find plenty of recipes in our weekly Kitchen Window feature.
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