In season: canola oil

Canola oil. It’s that tasteless, colorless, odorless oil you find next to the corn oil, vegetable oil and olive oil at the grocery store. Fine for cooking, maybe to use in a salad dressing where you just need the oil but no added flavor. Not interesting at all. And who knows where it really comes from?

Every other week at the Saturday morning Freedom Farmers Market, you can find Nathan Brett of Day Spring Farms selling flour milled from wheat grown on the farm in Danielsville, northeast of Athens. And he’s selling organic cold-pressed canola oil, pressed from seed also grown there on the farm.

“What we grow is a modern cultivar of what used to be known as rape seed,” Brett said. “Rape seed has a decent amount of oil but it has to be hydrogenated to be consumed. Most of what we can get here in the States has been treated pretty heavily with pesticides. And farmers spray the crop with desiccants to dry it out so it can be harvested earlier.”

Day Spring is growing its canola organically, somewhere between 7 and 10 acres worth each year. The farm just harvested the seed from its third year of growing canola.

“We’ve been involved with Ag Strong in Bowersville since we started the farm, and they suggested we try growing canola,” Brett said. “What’s most attractive to us is that it’s a good companion crop for our wheat. It goes in about the same time, comes out about the same time and we can turn the fields and replant in mid- to late summer. We rotate our wheat and canola in the fields.

“Canola does a great job of weed suppression and doesn’t pull the same nutrients out of the ground as the wheat needs, so those are left for the next crop of wheat. That’s really great because we don’t have systemic weed problems like wild garlic, which is a weed that would end up flavoring your wheat crop. We’ve come to depend on it as part of our rotation plan.”

The farm harvested its canola the last week of June and put it right onto a flatbed truck so it could be on its way to the Ag Strong plant about 21 miles away.

Ag Strong is a regional oil seed crushing and refinery for Southeastern growers of non-GMO canola oil. They got into the business in 2007 when they began introducing Southeastern farmers to the idea of growing canola as a winter rotational crop.

“Day Springs’ canola came to our Bowersville plant to be crushed. His crop is organic and we press it separately because we don’t have a lot of organic growers right now. We probably cold pressed about 55 gallons for them,” said David Stob, vice president of sales and marketing for Ag Strong.

Stob explains that cold pressing mechanically crushes the seed with the least amount of friction, keeping the oil below 120 degrees. “This method of extracting the oil retains a lot of the earthy aromas and antioxidants. It’s a healthier oil with a more robust flavor. Most canola oil is refined so it is a neutral oil that won’t affect the flavor of what you’re cooking. This oil is good as a dipping oil or for marinades. It’s more of a gourmet oil.”

Once the oil is pressed, it’s sold back to the Bretts who use it at home as well as offer it to their customers.

“It’s like a really nice olive oil so we use it where we want to have a little more flavor. It makes a good frying oil, similar to peanut oil because it can take high temperatures,” said Brett.

Sugar Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for rolling cookie balls

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon or cardamom

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup cold pressed canola oil

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Stir in oil, eggs and vanilla.

Put a layer of sugar in a pie plate. Spray the bottom of a flat-bottomed glass with nonstick cooking spray. Scoop out 2-tablespoon balls of cookie dough and arrange on prepared baking sheets. Dip prepared glass into sugar, then use sugar-coated bottom to press cookies to 1/4-inch thickness. Bake 10 minutes or just until edges begin to turn golden. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack. Makes: 28 cookies

Per cookie: 126 calories (percent of calories from fat, 45), 2 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 6 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 15 milligrams cholesterol, 70 milligrams sodium.