Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom

Facts About Fruits and Vegetables

Vegetables / Fruit

Vegetables

Vegetable Recipes

Harvesting Turnip Greens (Farm Bureau Photo)

beets / blackeyed peas / broccoli / cabbage / carrots / sweet corn / cucumber / greens / lettuce / lima beans / okra / green peas / peppers / potatoes / pumpkins / snap beans / summer squash / sweet potatoes / tomatoes / winter squash

Nearly every county in Oklahoma listed vegetables as a crop in the last Census of Agriculture. Oklahoma is a great place to grow vegetables. We have a long growing season and good soil. Many communities around the state have active farmers markets from April through October where you can purchase locally grown vegetables. Some markets even operate year-roun. Locally grown vegetables are also available from roadside stands and "pick-your-own" farms.

Nutrition experts tell us we should be eating five servings a day of fruits and vegetables. With all the variety available to us, that shouldn't be difficult. Eating vegetables in season is a great way to get the most nutritional value and usually the best price as well. Vegetable also taste best in season, so offering veggies in season may be the best way to get kids to appreciate them. There's no comparing a tomato from the farmer's market or home garden to one bred for shelf life rather than flavor, picked while still green, trucked thousands of miles and then placed - still green - in the grocery store. The same goes for many other kinds of produce.

Many Oklahoma farmers who formerly grew more traditional crops like wheat and cattle have started adding fruits and vegetables to their operations for the sake of diversity. That way if one crop fails, it's not a total loss. And consumer concerns about health have helped make growing vegetables and slightly more lucrative business. Vegetables are more difficult to grow than traditional crops because they require more attention day by day.

Asparagus

Asparagus grows well in Oklahoma gardens. In the spring, tiny asparagus tips poke their noses out of the ground. If you don't pick them right away, they grow into big lacy ferns.

Beets

  • Beets originate in the coastal regions of Europe, Africa and the Near East.
  • The beet is a member of the goosefoot (chenopod) family, along with spinach, chard and quinoa. Wild foods in the chenopod family were probably eaten by ancient hunter/gatherer people on the North American continent before the development of agriculture.
  • Beets are a unique source of phytonutrients called betalains. Betalains provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification support.
  • Betanin pigments from beets have been shown to lessen tumor cell growth.
  • The wild beet is thought to have originated in North Africa and grew wild along Asian and European seashores.
  • In earlier times people just ate the the beet greens and not the root. People today eat both.
  • Although typically a beautiful reddish-purple hue, beets also come in varieties that feature white, golden/yellow or even rainbow color roots.

Broccoli

  • Broccoli has been served up for dinner for at least 2,000 years.
  • By 2010 Americans were eating 900 percent more broccoli than they were eating in 1990.
  • Thomas Jefferson, often called the farmer president, was an avid gardener. He kept a detailed garden diary and recorded his planting of broccoli on May 27, 1767. It is likely that he was the first person to grow broccoli in the United States. Americans have grown broccoli in their gardens for about 200 years, but it was not popular until the 1920s. The first commercially-grown broccoli was grown and harvested in New York, then planted in the 1920's in California.
  • The name "broccoli" comes for the Latin word brachium, which means "branch," or "arm." Roman farmers called broccoli "the five green fingers of Jupiter."
  • Broccoli was first grown in the Italian province of Calabria and was given the name Calabrese. Today there are many varieties. In the United States, the most common type of broccoli is the Italian green or sprouting variety. Its green stalks are topped with umbrella-shaped clusters of purplish green florets.
  • Broccoli consumption has increased over 940 percent over the last 25 years.
  • Ounce for ounce, broccoli has as much calcium as a glass of milk and more vitamin C than an orange! A 1/3 pound stalk of broccoli has more vitamin C than 2 1/2 pounds of oranges or 204 apples.It is one of the best sources of vitamin A and has more fiber than a slice of wheat bran bread. Broccoli is also a good source of potassium, folacin, iron and fiber. It contains a few important phytochemicals: beta-carotene, indoles and isothiocyanates. Phytochemicals prevent carcinogens (cancer causing substances) from forming. They also stop carcinogens from getting to target cells and help boost enzymes that detoxify carcinogens.
  • Broccoli is a cool season vegetable. It grows well in Oklahoma gardens in early spring and in the fall.

Cabbage

  • Cabbage is one of only a few vegetables available fresh in the winter time. It is a cole crop, related to broccoli, cauliflower, kale and brussel sprouts. Cabbage is a cool weather vegetable that grows fine in Oklahoma gardens, as long as it is planted very early in the spring or in the fall.

Carrots

  • Carrots are members of the parsley family, characterized by the feathery green leaves. Other members include parsnips, fennel, dill and celery.
  • Carrots are a taproot, a type of root which grows downwards into the soil and swells. Carrots come in many sizes and shapes: round, cylindrical, fat, very small, long or thin.
  • Carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene, which our bodies turn into vitamin A. Carrots provide 30 percent of the vitamin A in the US diet.
  • Carrots only need a small amount of space and are very easy to grow. They need well-worked, sandy soil so they will grow long, straight roots. Lumps and stones in the soil will cause the carrots to grow crooked.
  • Carrots taste best when grown in cool weather. When the weather is too hot, the carrots grow bitter. In Oklahoma, some people grow carrots in their fall gardens.
  • Carrots originated in Afghanistan and possibly northern Iran and Pakistan. The first carrots were purple and yellow. Orange carrots did not appear until the 1700s, when Dutch plant breeders bred them to match the Dutch flag. Orange carrots are the only carrots with beta carotene. Today most carrots eaten around the world are orange. In 2002 European farmers began growing purple carrots again.
  • Carrots are worth approximately $300 million per year to US growers.
  • In the US carrots were allowed to escape cultivation and subsequently turned into the wild flower, "Queen Anne's Lace."
  • In the reign of James I, it became the fashion for ladies to use Wild Carrot flowers and its feathery leaves and stalks to decorate their hair, their hats, dresses and coats. This was especially fashionable during the autumn months when the leaves took on a reddish coloration.
  • When the British Navy blockaded West Indian sugar from entering Europe in the 18th century, chemists made sugar from organic carrots.
  • An extract of carrots was used to colour oleos (margarine) during the fats rationing that took place during WWII.

Cauliflower

  • Cauliflower probably originated in Asia Minor, but was available almost exclusively in Italy until the 16th century when it was introduced to France and eventually to other areas of Europe. It was first grown in North America in the late 1600s.
  • Today, thick cauliflower soups are popular in France and Eastern Europe. Sardinian cooks combine garlic, olive oil and capers with it to make zesty salads and hot dishes. In India, it's cooked with potato and onion to make a rich vegetable curry.
  • Mark Twain called cauliflower " a cabbage with a college education."
  • Cauliflower is formed from the natural flowers of a variety of cabbage plant encouraged to gather together, unopened, to create a mass which becomes a large head over time. Depending on type, the heads can be pale green, white or even purple. The cauliflower was once described as resembling a bridal bouquet.
  • Purple Cauliflower is wild and is actually better for us. The color is caused by anthocyanins (like those found in red cabbage and red wine), an antioxidant.
  • The buds of the cauliflower head are kept white by carefully covering them to prevent the formation of chlorophyll that sunlight would cause. Cauliflower that is green has simply not been covered.
  • Cauliflower is an excellent source of Vitamin C, a good source of folacin and a source of potassium.
  • Cauliflower is a cool season crop, grown in Oklahoma gardens early in the spring and in the fall.
  • Fresh cauliflower keeps well and can be refrigerated in the plastic wrapping in which it was purchased.
  • Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, related to broccoli. It has has a milder flavor than broccoli and tastes good in raw veggie platters and cooked dishes.

Cucumber

  • The cucumber is believed native to India, and evidence indicates that it has been cultivated in western Asia for 3,000 years.
  • From India it spread to Greece and Italy, where the Romans were especially fond of the crop, and later into China. It was probably introduced into other parts of Europe by the Romans.
  • Records of cucumber cultivation appear in France in the 9th century, England in the 14th century, and in North America by the mid-16th century.
  • The Spaniards brought cucumbers to Haiti in 1494. In 1535 Cartier found "very great cucumbers" grown on the site of what is now Montreal. Captains Amidas and Barlow found cucumbers in Native American gardens in Virginia in 1584. They were also being grown by the Iroquois when the first Europeans visited them.
  • Although less nutritious than most fruit, the fresh cucumber is still a very good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium, and also provides some dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin B6, thiamin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese. The pickling process removes or degrades much of the nutrient content, especially that of vitamin C.
  • A common belief is that cucumbers contain a substance that helps to reduce the swelling around eyes or the bags under the eyes. They can reduce swelling but not for the assumed reason. More than 90% of the cucumber consists of water, and it is the cooling effect of the water in the cucumbers on eyes, together with increased humidity, that reduces the swelling.

Greens

  • Greens are the first vegetables to come up in the springtime. If well-protected, some will stay alive through the winter and begin growing once the days start to warm. Spinach that overwinters is sweeter than that is planted later.
  • Spinach is probably the best known of the greens, but there are many others, including young dandelion greens! Swiss chard grows very well in Oklahoma as do mustard and beet greens. Other greens available in the grocery store this time of year are collard greens, kale and an assortment of Oriental greens.

Lettuce

  • Lettuce, a member of the sunflower family, is one of the oldest known vegetables and is believed to be native to the Mediterranean area.
  • In the US lettuce ranks second only to potatoes as the most popular vegetable. Average US consumption in the 1990s was 30 pounds of lettuce per person per year.
  • Lettuce cannot be harvested mechanically because no machine has been invented that can tell a good head of lettuce from a bad head of lettuce. Lettuce must be harvested by hand.
  • There are four main types of lettuce - head lettuce, romaine, loose leaf and butterhead. Head lettuce is better known as iceberg lettuce. Up until the 1920s it was known as "crisphead" but was renamed when California growers began shipping the lettuce under mounds of ice to keep the heads cool and crisp. Romaine lettuce was named by the Romans who believed it had healthful properties. In fact, the Emperor Ceasar Augustus put up a statue praising lettuce because he believed it cured him from an illness.
  • Iceberg lettuce doesn't offer much nutritionally, but romaine and loose leaf lettuce are nutrient rich. In fact, romaine and looseleaf provide five to six times the amount of vitamin A and five to ten times the vitamin A compared to iceberg. Romaine and butterhead also are good sources of folate, which helps prevent birth defects and may decrease risk of heart disease.
  • In Oklahoma, lettuce is grown early in the spring in home gardens. It is a cool weather crop and tends to bolt in our hot summers. Lettuce is a good vegetable to grow in classroom gardens because it is ready to eat 40-50 days after it is planted.


Okra

  • In Louisiana okra is called “gumbo” because it is an important ingredient in a kind of soup by that name.
  • Okra is more common in Oklahoma and other southern gardens than it is in other parts of the country. That’s because it needs plenty of sunshine and won’t even poke its head out of the ground unless the weather is very warm.

Peppers

  • One bell pepper has more vitamin C than an orange or a cup of strawberries.
  • Peppers love warm soil and cannot tolerate frost.
  • The pepper was introduced to Europeans by natives to the Americas.
  • Bell peppers belong to a different family from that of black pepper,
    but they belong to the same family as the pepper from which chili powder is made.
  • Chilies can make foods safer. Tthey are known to reduce harmful bacteria on foods.
  • The Mayans rubbed hot peppers on their gums to stop toothaches.
  • The Incas believed that eyesight was improved by eating chilies.
  • In New Mexico, chili is spelled c-h-i-l-E. In 1983, New Mexico Senator Pete Dominici made it official by putting it in the Congressional Record. He rose and addressed the United States Senate, declaring that even though the word was "chili" in the dictionary , New Mexicans refused to spell it that way, and so, he said, he was standing before the full Senate, with the backing of his New Mexican constituents, to state unequivocally that the dictionary was wrong.
  • Inhabitants of the New World had chili peppers and the makings of taco chips 6,100 years ago, according to new research by the Smithsonian Institute that examined the bowl-scrapings of people sprinkled throughout Central America and the Amazon basin. The chili pepper is the oldest spice in use in the Americas, and one of the oldest in the world.
  • The researchers believe further study may show that the fiery pod was used 1,000 years earlier than their current oldest specimen, as it shows evidence of having been domesticated, a process that would have taken time. If so, that would put chili peppers in the same league (although probably not the same millennium) as spices such as coriander, capers and fenugreek.
  • Within decades of European contact, the chili pepper plant was carried across Europe and into Africa and Asia, adopted widely, and further altered through selective breeding.
  • Today, the chili pepper is an essential cooking ingredient in places as different as Hungary (where paprika is a national symbol), Ethiopia, and China.
  • In all seven New World sites where chili pepper residue was found, the researchers also detected remnants of corn. That suggests the domestication of the two foods -- still intimately paired in Latin American cuisine -- may have gone hand in hand.

Potatoes

  • The cultivated potato, Solanum tuberosum, is one of around 1,500 species in the flowering plant genus Solanum, which also includes the tomato, eggplant and woody nightshade.
  • There are some 190 species of wild potatoes, all found in the Andes. From these a single species has been domesticated and spread throughout the world.
  • Botanically, the potato is a tuber, a swollen piece of underground stem where the plant stores starch.
  • Wild potato plants and local primitive varieties have tubers, but they are often small and oddly shaped.
  • One acre of potatoes will produce 52,000 servings of French Fries.
  • The word “spud” was a 14th Century term for a short knife or dagger and came to mean potato because of its use in digging holes for planting potatoes.
  • Potato is the world's most widely grown tuber crop, and the fourth largest food crop in terms of fresh produce — after rice, wheat, and maize.
  • The potato originated in the area of contemporary Peru.
  • Potato was introduced to Europe probably in the 1570s, or approximately eighty years after the first voyage of Columbus in 1492, and subsequently by European mariners to territories and ports throughout the world as European colonization expanded in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
  • Thousands of varieties of potatoes persist in the Andes, where over 100 varieties might be found in a single valley, and a dozen or more might be maintained by a single agricultural household.
  • Once established in Europe, potato soon became an important food staple and field crop. Potatoes can feed a family well from a very small plot of land, improving offspring survival and thus driving population growth. Pushed onto marginal land by large landowners, Irish peasants thrived by growing potatoes. They were desperately poor but not starving.
  • Lack of genetic diversity, due to the fact that very few varieties were initially introduced, left the Irish potato crop vulnerable to disease. In 1845, a fungal disease, Phytophthora infestans, also known as late blight, spread rapidly through the poorer communities of western Ireland, resulting in the Great Irish Famine. The resultant starvation killed more than a million Irish people and led to the emigration of millions more.
  • Following the Irish Potato Famine, most Americans regarded the potato as food for animals rather than for humans, until an effective fungicide against potato blight was found in 1883 by French botanist Alexander Millardet.
  • Potatoes arrived in the Virginia colony of Jamestown in 1621 when the governor of Bermuda, Nathaniel Butler, sent two large cedar chests containing potatoes and other vegetables to Governor Francis Wyatt.
  • The first permanent potato patches in North America were established in 1719, most likely near Londonderry (Derry), NH, by Scotch-Irish immigrants. From there the crop spread across the country.
  • The potato is also strongly associated with Idaho, Maine, North Dakota, Prince Edward Island, Ireland, Jersey and Russia because of its large role in the agricultural economy and history of these regions.
  • In recent decades, the greatest expansion of potato has been in Asia, where as of 2007 approximately 80 percent of the world potato crop is grown.
  • Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, China has become the world's largest potato producer, followed by India.
  • The potato is a cool season crop and can be grown in Oklahoma gardens early in the spring or late in the fall.

Pumpkins

  • Pumpkins originated in Central America. Seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico, dating back over 7,000 years to 5500 B.C.
  • The name pumpkin orginated from "pepon" – the Greek word for "large melon." Native Americans called pumpkins "isqoutm," their word for "squash."
  • The pumpkin is one of only a few foods we still eat today that is native to North America.
  • The Pilgrims and other early New England settlers liked to use pumpkins, because uncut pumpkins would keep for several months, if stored in a cool, dry place. Pumpkins were a main part of the early settlers daily diet.
  • Colonists made the first pumpkin pies by slicing off pumpkin tips, removing the seeds and filling the insides with milk, spices and honey, then baking it all in hot ashes. Pumpkins were also used as an ingredient for the crust of pies.
  • Pumpkins were used for many different things. Dried pumpkin shells served as bowls or containers for storing grains and seeds. Native Americans flattened strips of pumpkins, dried them and made mats from them.
  • Native Americans used pumpkin seeds for food and medicine.
  • The pumpkin is a vegetable, but most pumpkins grown today are sold for decorating and carving.
  • Pumpkins range in size from less than a pound to over 1,000 pounds. The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,469 pounds and looked like "a pale version of Jabba the Hut."
  • Some pumpkins are gray or pale green, but most are yellow or orange. Some are even white.
  • The Connecticut field variety is the traditional American pumpkin.
  • Pumpkins are 90 percent water, high in fiber and contain potassium and Vitamin A.
  • Pumpkin flowers are large and yellow. They are also edible.
  • Pumpkins are cucurbits, related to cucumbers, squash, melons and gourds.
  • Some kinds of pumpkins are grown for cattle to eat.
  • The largest pumpkin pie ever made was over five feet in diameter and weighed over 350 pounds. It used 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and took six hours to bake.
  • Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites.
  • Eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October.
  • The tradition of carving pumpkins at Halloween started with the Irish, but the original jack-o-lanterns were made from turnips. When the Irish immigrated to the U.S., they found pumpkins a plenty, and they were much easier to carve.
  • The town of Goffstown, New Hampshire, holds an annual pumpkin regatta each October, in which giant pumpkins are hollowed out to make room for a single passenger, then fitted with trolling motors and paraded on the Piscataquog River.

Summer Squash

  • Squash is usually divided into two categories - summer and winter. Summer squashes are harvested and eaten while their skin is still tender. Winter squash grows a thick skin, which helps it keep longer.
  • The most common summer squashes are scallop, or patty pan, constricted neck and zucchini. Patty pan is round and flattened like a plate with scalloped edges. It is usually white. Constricted neck squash is thinner at the stem end than the blossom end, and is classified as either "crookneck" or "straightneck.' It is usually yellow. Zucchini squash is cylindrical to club-shaped and is usually green.
  • Zucchini squash is so prolific in home gardens that there is an official night designated for getting rid of it: National Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Night (August 8).
  • Archaeologists have traced squash origins to Mexico, dating back from 7,000 to 5,500 BC, when they were an integral part of the ancient diet of maize, beans, and squashes.
  • The colonists of New England adopted the name squash, a word derived from several Native American words for the vegetable which meant "green thing eaten green."
  • Eventually summer squash made its way to the warm Mediterranean regions of Europe where it thrived and was renamed zucchini by the Italians and courgette by the French. Both names mean "small squash," which implies that they were eaten at their small, young stage.
  • George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were squash enthusiasts who even enjoyed growing them.
  • Summer squash is very low in calories and high in fiber. It is rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C, folic acid and calcium. One cup of summer squash has nearly as much potassium as a banana. It also contains the valuable mineral nutrient phosphorus.
  • There is ample archaeological evidence to show that the diverse varieties of squash and pumpkins grown today throughout the world originated from wild Cucurbita gourds cultivated in the Americas for thousands of years by native Indians.
  • According to Smithsonian archeologist Bruce Smith and archaeologist Wesley Cowan of the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History, a variety of squash native to the Ozark region of Arkansas and Missouri may be the living ancestor of today's many varieties of summer squash and related gourds. Their research indicates that is was cultivated in this area by native Indians more than 3,000 years ago.

Sweet Potatoes

  • Sweet potatoes are members of the morning glory family and native to the American tropics.
  • Native Americans were growing sweet potatoes in the New World when Columbus arrived in 1492.
  • By the 16th Century, sweet potatoes were being cultivated in the southern colonies, where they became a staple in the traditional cuisine.
  • Today sweet potatoes are used in cuisines all over the world as a satisfying and versatile vegetable with a well-earned reputation for nutrition.
  • Sweet potatoes are not the same as yams, which are native to Africa and Asia and are starchier and drier than sweet potatoes.
  • They are a winter crop, so they provide fresh vegetables when many other vegetables are unavailable.
  • A sweet potato is a root tuber, a fleshy root that stores food for a plant.
  • Sweet potatoes are an important source of beta carotene, an organic compound that helps to prevent Vitamin A deficiency.

Tomato

  • The heaviest tomato ever grown weighed 7 lb 12 oz. It was of the cultivar 'Delicious' and was grown by Gordon Graham of Edmond, Oklahoma in 1986.
  • The scientific name for tomato is lycopersicum, which translates "wolf peach."
  • The tomato probably originated in the highlands of South America. From there it migrated to Central America, where Mayan and other peoples in the region used the fruit in their cooking. By the 16th Century it was being cultivated in southern Mexico. The large, lumpy tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated and was encouraged in Central America. This variant is the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes.
  • The earliest reference to tomatoes in British North America is from 1710, when herbalist William Salmon reported seeing them in what is today South Carolina. They may have been introduced from the Caribbean. By the mid-18th century they were cultivated on some Carolina plantations and probably in other parts of the South as well. It is possible that some people continued to think tomatoes were poisonous at this time, and in general they were grown more as ornamental plants than as food. Cultured people like Thomas Jefferson, who ate tomatoes in Paris and sent some seeds home, knew the tomato was edible, but many of the less well-educated did not.
  • La Tomatina is a festival held on a Wednesday towards the end of August at Buñol, Valencia, Spain. Tens of thousands of participants come from all over the world, fight in a harmless battle where more than one hundred metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets.The tomato fight has been a strong tradition in Buñol since 1944 simply for fun - there is no known political or religious significance.
  • Botanically speaking a tomato is the ovary, together with its seeds, of a flowering plant. This would mean that technically it would be considered a fruit. However, from a culinary perspective the tomato is typically served as a meal, or part of a main course of a meal, meaning that it would be considered a vegetable. This argument has led to actual legal implications in the US. In 1887, U.S. tariff laws, which imposed a duty on vegetables but not on fruits, caused the tomato's status to become a matter of legal importance. The U.S. Supreme Court settled this controversy in 1893, declaring that the tomato is a vegetable, along with cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas, using the popular definition which classifies vegetables by use, that they are generally served with dinner and not dessert. The case is known as Nix v. Hedden.
  • In England during the 1500s, the most prosperous people ate from plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Winter Squash

  • The term "winter squash" dates back to a time when refrigeration and cross country transportation was not as readily available as it is now. Fresh produce was not available on grocery shelves year round to the extent that it is now. "Good keepers" became known as winter vegetables if they would "keep" until December. Winter squash have hard, thick skins and will keep for up to a month if stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place.
  • Winter squash is in the cucurbitae family, along with other gourds - pumpkin, cucumber and summer squash.
  • Winter squash can be used as a substitute for pumpkin in pumpkin pie. Most people can't tell the difference. Many cooks prefer winter squash, because it is not as fibrous as pumpkin.
  • Butternut is the most common winter squash in grocery stores. This squash has a peachy orange skin and bright orange flesh color. It has a long neck with a round base which holds the seeds. Those with thick necks and small round bases have the most edible flesh.
  • The acorn squash is dark green with a series of deep ridges, narrowing to a tapered point.The flesh is golden yellow, The best ones are dark green and are available late in the fall.
  • The flesh of spaghetti squash is very fibrous and stringy. Some people actually eat it like spaghetti. The stringy flesh is a creamy white color, and not too sweet.
  • Squash plants produce separate male and female flowers and rely on bees for pollination.
  • Winter squash is a tasty source of complex carbohydrate (natural sugar and starch) and fiber. It is also a source of potassium, niacin, iron and beta carotene.
  • Modern day squash developed from the wild squash that originated in an area between Guatemala and Mexico. While squash has been consumed for over 10,000 years, they were first cultivated specifically for their seeds since earlier squash did not contain much flesh, and what they did contain was very bitter and unpalatable. As time progressed, squash cultivation spread throughout the Americas, and varieties with a greater quantity of sweeter-tasting flesh were developed. Christopher Columbus brought squash back to Europe from the New World, and like other native American foods, their cultivation was introduced throughout the world by Portuguese and Spanish explorers. Today, the largest commercial producers of squash include China, Japan, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, and Argentina.

Fruits

Fruit Recipes

apples / apricots / blackberries / blueberries / cherries / grapes / melons / peaches / pears / plums / strawberries

Apples

  • Of all the tree fruit crops, apples and peaches are best adapted to Oklahoma conditions.
  • The best apple varieties for Oklahoma are McLemore, Gala, Jonathan, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Fuji.
  • Apples bloom later and are less susceptible to spring frosts.
  • The crabapple is the only apple native to North America.
  • The pilgrims planted the first apple trees in the Massachusetts Colony.
  • The science of apple growing is called pomology.
  • Apples are a member of the rose family.
  • There are approximately 7,500 varieties of apples around the world. Only about 100 are grown commercially in the US, and the top 10 varieties account for 90 percent of the crop.
  • Americans eat 19 pounds of apples annually--about a quarter of the 46 pounds consumed annually by Europeans,
  • The most popular varieties are Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, McIntosh and Jonathan.
  • The red delicious apple emerged from an Iowa orchard in 1880 as a round, blushed yellow fruit. Over time, developers bred it to be red to make it more appealing to the consumer. They also made it firmer and juicier.
  • The red delicious apple can be stored in hermetically sealed warehouses for up to 12 months.
  • The apple harvest in Washington state ends in October. Most apples sold through December are stored in refrigerated warehouses. Fruit shipped later in this cycle is kept in a more sophisticated environment called controlled-atmosphere storage - airtight rooms where the temperatures are chilly, the humidity high and the oxygen levels reduced to a bare minimum to arrest aging. Last year's fruit will be sold through September, just as the new harvest is in full swing.
  • Storage apples must be picked before all their starches turn to sugar. If they are picked too late, the apple turns mealy in the supermarket. If picked too soon, the apple will never taste sweet.
  • In the 1980s heyday of the Red Delicious, it represented three-quarters of the harvest in Washington state, epicenter of the apple industry. By 2000, it made up less than half, and in 2003, the crop had shrunk to just 37 percent of the state's harvest of 103 million boxes. Red Delicious remains the single largest variety produced in the state, but others are ascending in market share as rapidly as Red Delicious is dropping, notably Fuji and Gala.
  • American as apple pie? The first apple pie was reputed to have been baked at Valley Forge.
  • The top apple-producing states are Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and Virginia.

Apricots

  • A temperamental plant, apricots need a dry climate in which to thrive. They grow wild in the mountains of north-western China and central Asia and have probably been cultivated for at least 5,000 years.
  • Apricots were probably introduced to North America by the Franciscan brothers in California some 200-300 years ago.
  • Apricots flourished in ancient Rome and the Moors also established them in Spain. King Henry VIII's gardener imported them to England in the 1500's and grew them in protected walled gardens.
  • King Henry VIII's gardener brought the apricot to England from Italy in 1542.
  • The poet Ruskin described apricots as "shining in a sweet brightness of golden velvet"
  • The Latin name for apricot is praecoquum, meaning early matured (fruit).
  • Just three fresh apricots provide 30 percent of the recommended daily amount for beta-carotene (Vitamin A). Apricots also provide Vitamin C, iron, potassium, and fiber among other nutrients.

Blueberries

  • The blueberry is a native American fruit. Early settlers cherished it as a staple ingredient in foods and medicines. They incorporated the berries into their diets, eating them fresh off the bush and adding them to soups, stews, and many other foods.
  • Early American colonists made grey paint by boiling blueberries in milk. The blue paint used to paint woodwork in Shaker houses was made from sage blossoms, indigo and blueberry skins, mixed in milk.
  • Blueberries are a good source of fiber and are the best of all fruits and vegetables for their antioxidant activity. Foods containing antioxidants may prevent cancer, heart disease, and other ailments. One-half cup of blueberries delivers as much antioxidant power as five servings of peas, carrots, squash, broccoli and other foods tested.

Cherries

  • The US leads the world in sweet cherry production, producing about 370 million pounds every year. Sweet cherries are grown commercially in Washington, Oregon, California. and Michigan.
  • Oklahoma is too hot and dry for commercial cherry production, but sour cherries are grown successfully in some home gardens. On large cherry orchards, large machines actually shake the tree to harvest the cherries.

Grapes

  • Grapes were cultivated in ancient Egypt and in ancient Greece and Rome, both for eating and winemaking purposes. From there the cultivation of grapes spread to Europe, North African and finally to North America.
  • Leif Ericsson the Lucky of Norway called the east coast of New England Vinland because of all the wild grapes he found growing there.
  • Native purple grapes grew wild across North America and were a part of the diet of many native tribes.
  • Raisins were probably first produced deliberately in Asia Minor by the process of burying fresh grapes in the hot desert sand.
  • The grapes used to make raisins are different from table grapes. Another kind of grape is used to make grape juice.
  • All kinds of grapes can be grown in Oklahoma, but most of the grapes we find in the grocery store come from California or Chile.
  • The climate and soils of Oklahoma are favorable for grapes. Several species are native.
  • About 50 percent of the grapes grown in the US are used to make wine.
  • Columbus brought Old World grapes from Europe to Haiti in the New World. They were introduced to the east coast by colonists but were attacked by many pests and diseases. Some of the colonists developed New American varieties by selecting and crossing the better native wild grapes with each other or by crossing wild grapes with European varieties.
  • Spanish explorers introduced the grape to America about 300 years ago. The first cultivated grapes in the US were probably grown in California by Spanish Franciscan friars who made wine for California missions.
  • The oldest cultivated grapevine in the US grows in North Carolina.
  • The Mothervine in Manteo, Roanoke Island, Virginia, is a 400-year-old Scuppernong vine.
  • Table grapes are still harvested by hand in many places.
  • Grape-growing is the largest food industry in the world. There are more than 60 species and 8,000 varieties of grapes, and they can all be used to make juice and/or wine.
  • The best-selling grape in the US is the Thompson Seedless. Golden raisins are made from Thompson seedless.
  • Botanically, grapes are berries.
  • About 25 percent of the grapes eaten in the US are imported from Chile.
  • It takes about 2 1/2 pounds of grapes to produce a bottle of wine.
  • One acre of grapes can produce an average 15,000 glasses of wine.
  • Grapes have resveratrol, phytonutrients, anthocyanins, catechins and phenols—all good for your health.

Melons

  • Melons are warm season crops that thrive in Oklahoma's long growing season.
  • All kinds of melons grow in Oklahoma, but our watermelon crop is the most profitable. In 2011 Oklahoma produced 230,000 hundredweight of watermelon, adding about $3 million to our state’s economy.
  • Columbus brought cantaloupe with him to the New World on his second voyage.
  • Melons were grown almost exclusively in home gardens until the first half of the 20th century, when more disease- and wilt-resistant cultivars were developed by the USDA.
  • Archaeological evidence suggests the muskmelon originated in Persia about 4,000 years ago.
  • The Greeks appear to have known about muskmelon in the 3rd Century BC.
  • The North American Indians were growing muskmelons in the 17th Century.
  • Cantaloupe is an excellent source of Vitamins A and C, a very good source of potassium and a good source of B6, folate and dietary fiber.
  • A melon that is ripe will have a blossom end that is fragrant and gives slightly to pressure.
  • Ripe muskmelons or cantaloupes should be tan or gold under their netting.
  • Ripe honeydews should be velvety and creamy yellow.
  • Ripe crenshaw melons should be golden yellow and green.
  • Ripe casabas are ready when the skin turns golden and the flesh white.
  • Ripe honeydews, casabas and watermelons should feel heavy for their size and sound hollow when tapped on the rind.
  • Avoid melons with shriveled, punctured or cracked rinds.
  • Thumping an unripe melon will produce a metallic sound while the sound emanating from a ripe melon will be duller.
  • The terms "muskmelon" and "cantaloupe" are often used interchangeably, but this is not accurate. All cantaloupes are muskmelons, but not all muskmelons are cantaloupes.
  • Muskmelons include a variety of melons, which run the gamut from cantaloupes to casabas. There are two basic categories: netted and smooth. The skin of a muskmelon can vary in color from creamy white to rich green, while the flesh may be white, green, golden, orange, or even almost salmon colored.
  • Melons grown commercially are dependant upon honeybees for proper growth. On average, it takes about 10-15 bee visits for proper pollination.

watermelon facts

Peaches

"An apple is an excellent thing, until you have tried a peach." George du Maurier, British illustrator and author

 

Oklahoma Peaches

  • Many of the tribes located in Indian Territory were growing peaches well before Oklahoma statehood. Travelers through the area reported peaches as one of the foods offered by their Indian hosts.
  • Peaches were also an important crop to settlers who moved into the area with the land runs. According to one early account, peaches were being shipped out by the carload within eight years after settlement. Porter, Stratford and Guthrie were some of the areas where peach production was reported early in our history.
  • In 1904, Ben Marshall, a Creek allotee from Porter, received a gold medal at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition for the quality of his peaches. Commercial peach production took off in Oklahoma after that.
  • Peaches need a reasonably fertile, well-drained soil.
  • The major problems for growing peaches in Oklahoma include unpredictable weather conditions, bacterial leaf spot and insect pests. Spring storms bring hail, high winds and heavy thundershowers which may damage peach orchards through limb breakage and loss of fruit during the critical growing period. Peach borers sometimes damage trees, and other insects can cause the fruit to be unattractive to customers.
  • The first ripe peaches appear in June. Most of the peaches grown in Oklahoma are consumed within the state and are hand harvested. Because consumers want peaches with few flaws, harvesters must exercise care in harvesting and handling.
  • In addition to harvest, peach production includes spraying regularly for pests, pruning as soon as the leaves start dropping in the fall, grading, choosing and setting out new trees, fertilizing, and thinning the tiny green fruit so each peach has space to develop.
  • Some of the popular varieties grown in Oklahoma are Candor, Sentinel, Redhaven, Reliance, Ranger, Glohaven, Nectar, Cresthaven, Autumn Gold, Ouachita Gold, White Hale, Starks Encore and Fairtime.
  • Orchards in Stratford and Porter continue to be the areas where most of Oklahoma's peaches are produced. Peach festivals are held each July in Stratford and Porter.

Peach Migrations

  • China is widely considered to be the native home of peaches. This is supported by the fact that there is a wide range of wild peach types in the countryside. Originally the peach grew in North China in areas of erosion and overgrazing. They were a symbol of fertility and affection and of immortality and unity. The peach tree is considered to be the tree of life.
  • To this day China remains the largest producer of peaches, with Italy second. California produces more than 50 percent of the peaches in the US.
  • True wild peaches are found only in China. Unlike the cultivated fruit, the wild fruit is small, sour and very fuzzy.
  • Peaches traveled west via the silk roads to Persia (now Iran). In Persia, peaches were discovered by Alexander the Great, who mentions half a dozen types. Alexander the Great introduced peaches to the Greeks.
  • By 322 BCE Greece enjoyed the peach, and by 50 to 20 BCE, the Romans were growing and selling them. The Romans called the peach "Persian apple," and the name for peach in numerous languages is the name for Persia. (French peche, German pfirilch, Italian pesca, Spanish melocoton, Portuguese pessego, Danish/Norwegian fersken, Swedish persika, Finnish persikka, Russian persik, Polish brzoskwinia, Serbo-Croat breskva, Romanian piersica, Bulgarian praskova, Greek robakinon, Turkish seftail, Hebrew afarseq, Arabic khukh, Persian hulu, Hindi aru, Chinese tao, Japanese momo, Indonesian persik)
  • Spaniards brought peaches to South American, and the French introduced them to Louisiana. The English took them to their Jamestown and Massachusetts colonies. Columbus brought peach trees to America on his second and third voyages.
  • Early peaches were propagated by seed, the easiest way to transport the peach plant. Budded trees became available in America around the time of the American Revolution.
  • Several tribes of Native American Indians were particularly fond of peaches. In Pennsylvania, William Penn wrote that there was "not an Indian plantation without them." It is probable that the spread of peaches was due to the Native Americans. Thomas Jefferson planted peaches at Monticello in 1802.
  • Dried peaches travelled with Americans setting out across the western frontier.
  • A peach was the first fruit tree to be patented - in 1932.
  • There are two basic types of peaches. One is the clingstone, in which the flesh clings to the stone. Most clingstones are taken ripe from the field and canned within 24 hours of picking. The other variety is the freestone, which can be loosened from the pit with relative ease. These are the fresh peaches most often found in grocery stores.
  • The expression "You're a real peach" originated from the tradition of giving a peach to a friend you liked.
  • Peaches are sometimes called "stone fruits" because of their pits.

Pears

  • Pear is the common name for about 20 species of trees of a genus in the rose family, and for their fruit. The common pear is native to Europe; the Chinese sand pear is native to the Orient. Both species are extensively cultivated for their fruit in cool, humid, temperate regions throughout the world.
  • The fruit of a pear tree is a pome, juicier than the apple, and varying from apple-shaped to teardrop-shaped. Among different varieties, the thin skin varies in color from light yellow and green through red and brown. The thick flesh varies in flavor among different varieties. In young, unripe common pears, and in young and mature Chinese sand pears, the flesh contains numerous gritty cells called stone cells.
  • Pears are gathered from the trees before they are completely ripe and are allowed to ripen in storage. Cold retards ripening, and heat speeds it. Pears are eaten fresh and canned.
  • Commercial pear production in the United States averages about 700,000 metric tons annually. The best North American pear-growing districts are in California, Washington, and Oregon and, to a lesser degree, in the northern United States, from New England to the Great Lakes and in lower Canada. Pears are grown extensively in home orchards in Oklahoma and all over the United States.
  • Pears contain about 16 percent carbohydrate and negligible amounts of fat and protein. They are good sources of the B-complex vitamins and also contain vitamin C; in addition, they contain small amounts of phosphorus and iodine. Fresh pears offer dietary fiber, much of it in the form of pectin. A pear weighing 166 grams provides 2.32 grams of crude fiber, and 4 grams of dietary fiber, of which 41 percent is pectin. Fiber contains no calories, and is a necessary element of a healthy diet.
  • Europeans call some pear varieties "butter fruit" because of their buttery texture when ripe and their sweet and juicy flavor.
  • There are several different varieties of pears available from the supermarket. Here are some of the more common varieties.
    • Anjou stays light green when ripe and is good for eating raw or cooking. Red anjou have a dark red skin with a contrasting creamy interior. They cost more than green anjou.
    • Bartlets are sweet and juicy. They turn yellow and may have a pink blush as they ripen. This is the most popular pear and the one most commonly used for canning and drying. Also called the yellow or green Bartlett, and the Williams pear. Red Bartlett pears have bright red skin and are more costly. Also known as the Red Sensation pear.
    • Bosc pears are firm, hold their shape when cooked, and have long, elegant necks. Not as juicy, this is a crunchier pear when eaten raw. Also called the Golden Pear.
    • The comice is the perfect snacking pear because it is sweet and juicy. Also nice for a dessert or with cheese. It is more costly than the others.
    • Concord pears are tender, sweet, juicy, and creamy, with a hint of vanilla flavor. They havea smooth texture and are not at all grainy like some other pears. They also have long necks, much like the Bosc.
    • Packham is smooth, sweet, and juicy with bumpy skin and white flesh. Also known as Triumph. A specialty from Australia and a favorite fruit there. Can be eaten fresh or cooked. Unlike some other pears, this pear stays green even when ripe.
    • The seckel pear is smaller and sweeter and is therefore the perfect lunchbox pear.

Plums

  • Plums are hard-pitted fruits like peachs, cherrys, almonds, and apricots. About 12 plum species are cultivated throughout temperate regions for their fruit and as flowering ornamentals.
  • Plums grow in over 2,000 varieties, in shades of red, blue-black, purple and bright amber.
  • When dried, a plum becomes a prune, a name that comes from the fruit's scientific name Prunus.
  • Prunes are eaten raw, soaked or stewed alone or with other fruits, and used in jams and desserts. The pulp, stewed fruit, and juice are packaged commercially.
  • Plums are native to China, America, Europe and the Caucasus. Greek writers mention cultivated plum varieties being imported to Greece from Syria. The Romans introduced the fruit in Northern Europe. In 1864 there were 150 cultivated varieties.
  • Wild plums native to North America were gathered and eaten by aboriginal peoples and European colonists alike. the variety of wild plum seen growing along roadsides in Oklahoma is called "Oklahoma plum" or "sand plum."
  • The common European plum has been cultivated since ancient times and probably originated near the Caspian Sea. It was introduced into North America, possibly by the Pilgrims, and is now mostly cultivated in the western United States. Fruits of varieties of this species range in color from yellow or red to green, but purplish-blue is most common. Dried plums, or prunes, are made from the varieties that are richest in sugar and solids.
  • Plums have stones like human fingerprints, each one being unique to a particular variety.
  • Henry VIII was a plum-eater. Experts were able to identify over 100 individual plum stones found on the flagship of Henry VIII’s Mary Rose, which sank in 1545 and was raised in the 1980s.
  • A plum's ripeness cannot be judged by its color because each variety has its own color: Santa Rosa plums are dark purple in color, Red plums are redish-purple, and Black plums are deep purple almost black. Yet all plums should be soft when ripe and never hard. The softer the plum the sweeter the plum.
  • Certain varieties of plums have such firm flesh and such a high sugar content that they can be dried with little loss of their original plumpness and flavor. These plums are called prune-plums, and the dried plums themselves are called prunes. The ancient peoples of the Middle East were probably the first to dry plums to make prunes.
  • One medium-size plum contains 36 calories and is a source of Vitamin C and of antioxidants that may help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol that can damage arteries. In fact, plums provide just as much antioxidant as blueberries. Plums and prunes are also high in potassium. Prunes are a good source of vitamins A and B, are high in fiber, and are rich in iron, calcium, and phosphorus. Their pulp is used as food for infants.
  • Plum pudding, a traditional Christmas dessert from medeival England, is a steamed or boiled pudding which, oddly, has never contained plums. In the 17th century, the word "plum" referred to raisins or other fruits used in cakes, puddings, etc. This use probably arose from the substitution of raisins for dried plums or prunes. Plum pudding does contain raisins, which are called plums only when used in plum pudding. Traditionally in England, small silver charms were baked in the plum pudding. A silver coin would bring wealth in the coming year; a tiny wishbone, good luck; a silver thimble, thrift; an anchor, safe harbor. It was also traditional for everyone who lived in the household to simultaneously hold onto the wooden spoon, help stir the batter for the pudding, and make a wish. During the Puritan reign in England, plum pudding was outlawed as "sinfully rich."
  • The word plum, used to mean something desirable, is first recorded is 1780, probably in reference to the sugar-rich bits of a plum pudding.
  • A sugar plum is simply a small piece of sugary candy.

 

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Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom is a program of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.