Canola power: Lee farm finds a niche bottling its oil, and finds a host of other uses, too
Canola is a member of the mustard family, and the leafy green plant produces an abundance of tiny black seeds that serve a wide variety of purposes. The higher quality seeds are collected by Hutton and his staff, sorted, cleaned and pressed into canola oil - a light, golden oil that can be used for cooking, for salad dressings, or even, as Hutton's wife Carol discovered, as a perfect topping for popcorn instead of butter.
Using a pair of machines, one to press the seeds, and the other to filter the oil, Hutton said, he's able to produce 50 to 65 gallons of oil in less than an hour. Once the oil is processed, Hutton and his staff bottle it, and off it goes to farmers markets and the public.
"It's a very good oil, full of Omega-3 fatty acids," said Meghan Boucher, who came to help out on the farm one summer and never left. "It's good for you, and it tastes good."
But the job of the canola plant and its seeds doesn't stop with cooking oil, Hutton said. Canola is planted in the fall and serves as an excellent ground cover that chokes out weeds and adds nutrients to the soil. Then, as soon as it gets warm in the spring, it starts growing again in earnest to prepare for the summer harvest.
"The only problem with that is the deer love it, and once they find it, you can't get rid of them," he said.
Though only the best seed becomes cooking oil, the rest is converted into biodiesel which fuels tractors and machines around the farm. And after the seeds are pressed, what's left are little pellets of spent seed that are loaded with protein and loved by farm animals, said Hutton.
"The sheep jump at it like dolphins," said Hutton. "They fight to get it."
Even the straw left over in July after the plant is harvested makes for perfect bedding.
"Everything that grows you can use," he said.
Getting started in canola oil production required some serious start-up costs that Hutton and family had to raise. The machinery alone cost $15,000. But with a pay-off expected in three years, he said, the up-front costs were worth it. Currently, Hutton is selling the cooking oil for $5 per bottle, and his customers keep coming back for more.
Hutton said he'd like to add to the seven acres currently growing canola (corn his other big crop) but also diversify by growing sunflowers and even soybeans. He's working with other farmers pressing their seeds as well.
"Ultimately, we'd like to have the operation set up so people can come and see what we're doing," he said. A barn on the property is being eyed for renovation that will allow for a room for pressing and a farm store.
For more information visit www.nhcornmaze.com.
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Nancy Bean Foster may be reached at email@example.com.
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Here are two recipes in which canola oil play important roles, including a salad that might be a hit at the Thanksgiving table (courtesy of CanolaInfo.org).
Cranberry Spinach Salad
1 (10 ounce) bag of baby spinach leaves
1 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup toasted shaved almonds
4 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup crumbled light feta cheese
2/3 cup canola oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar with raspberry juice vinegar
1 Tbsp poppy seeds
2 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1. In a large salad bowl combine spinach, cranberries, almonds, green onion and feta cheese.
2. In a separate small bowl, combine canola oil, balsamic vinegar, poppy seeds, sugar, salt and pepper. Mix well. Pour dressing over top of salad ingredients and toss lightly. Serve immediately.
Chiffon Sponge Cake
Canola oil cooking spray
2/3 cup canola oil
8 egg yolks
1 cup water
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
14 ounces cake flour
7 ounces sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
8 egg whites
7 ounces sugar
1. Lightly spray a 3-x-8-inch or 2-x-10-inch cake pan with cooking spray. Line with parchment and flour the sides of pan.
2. In bowl, whip canola oil and egg yolks until combined. Add water and vanilla extract.
3. In mixer bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Place bowl on electric mixer.
4. Add egg yolk mixture and beat gently just to combine. Scrape down bowl.
5. Beat at high speed for 20 seconds to fully aerate. Remove from mixer machine and scrape down bowl. Set aside.
6. In another mixer bowl, whip the egg whites to a foam. Slowly sift in second measure of sugar and whip to firm peaks.
7. Gently fold meringue into reserved batter. Transfer to cake pan.
8. Bake in a 325 °F convection oven for about 30 minutes. (Note: For a conventional oven, the temperature should be about 375. Conversion is inexact, so monitor closely.)
9. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool thoroughly.