Mom said it. The doctors say it. Nutrition educators say it. Even the first lady encourages it.
They’re all right — vegetables are good for you, and they taste good, too.
This is the time of year when fresh vegetables are the most abundant. Farmer’s markets, grocery stores, local produce stands and your own gardens are yielding a wide variety of goodness.
Pick up a free copy of the “Farm Fresh Directory” from Colorado State Extension offices, libraries, municipal buildings and other sites. It’s a guide to farmers markets, roadside stands, u-picks and agri-tourism activities.
Vegetables provide a variety of essential vitamins and fiber. As a rule of thumb, the most colorful vegetables give the most nutrition for the bite. Select red and orange over white, and dark green over pale green.
Not all vegetables are created equal in nutritional value but they are all best fresh. Try eating a rainbow of colors for the best variety.
A real plus for vegetables is they are low in calories, high in nutritional value and are filling. They are the magic pill for dieters as long as you don’t drown them in fatty, cream dressing and cheese.
Today’s selection is quite different than what was available in early America. American Indians were skilled farmers planting the “Three Sisters” (corn, squash and beans) together.
The words pumpkin and squash were used interchangeably.
Although winter squash, such as Hubbard and Acorn, are the ones we hear about most, summer squash, like Patty Pan, were also grown.
Ironically, another important crop that the American Indians gave the world, the potato, was first rejected by the colonists. Early Spanish explorers took the potato to Europe and it did not reappear in this country until brought here by the Irish in 1719.
The Aztecs credited chilli (as they called it) peppers with fine medicinal properties, and they were not far from wrong. One large green chile (as we call it) pepper contains as much vitamin C as an orange and the red chile is an excellent source of vitamin A.
Growing up on the Tigges Farm — located at 12404 Weld County Road 64½ near Greeley — we had plenty of carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, corn, cabbage (made into sauerkraut) and red beets.
The Tigges farm kids don’t remember ever eating a chile pepper product until sometime in the 1990s. Now they grow about 15 varieties of chile peppers on the farm and they find their way into most meals.
The Dutch are credited with bringing cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, beets, parsnips, carrots, dill, radishes, asparagus, leeks and a variety of herbs with them when they settled in New Amsterdam (now called New York City). They enjoyed hearty meals featuring garden grown vegetables plus dairy products. Soups and stews were a staple food as they could simmer it in large pots and use whatever was abundant plus meat.
Shaker cooking included some delicious meatless dishes using nuts, mushrooms, lentils, rice and cheese. Many are favorites today among vegetarians.
The Shakers had some of the first farmer markets and as early as 1811 they were selling jellies, relishes, sauces and preserves. Thousands of bushels of vegetables and fruits were canned during the harvest season.
After learning about wild herbs from the Indians, the Shakers successfully gathered, transplanted, cultivated and sold the plants to people throughout the country.
When the pioneers settled the West, it was corn in the morning and corn at night. It was one of the first crops frontier folks planted and it was the food they were most likely to have when all other food was gone.
As a result, people were always looking for new ways to use corn. One Nebraska newspaper in 1862 printed 33 different recipes for using corn.
There were many more foods introduced by those who came to America and new foods are still being introduced today. When people move, they take their favorite recipes with them and early settlers often took some of the seeds as well.
Today many new fruits and vegetables find popularity thanks to world travelers, food channels, magazines and books. New varieties of old favorite vegetables are developed and tested by universities and introduced into the marketplace.
As the same time, people are going back to heirloom varieties to recapture the taste of their childhood.
Enjoy your vegetables. They’re good for you.
Kathy Rickart and Gale Loeffler are co-owners or Tigges Farm Produce and Pumpkin Patch near Greeley and retired CSU Extension Home Economists in Elbert and Arapahoe counties, respectively.