Thursday, January 7, 2021

Homegrown, home-roasted sunflower seeds

 One of my favorite things to do in our 2020 summer garden was to stand face to face with our sunflowers and watch the bees work on them. There were frequently large bumble bees but also several smaller types of bees, all of them busily focused on their tasks, not minding if I leaned in close to get a better look at the packs of pollen bulking up their little bee hips.

And now, we are enjoying the fruits of those bees' labor. Sunflower seeds!

With daily vigilance this past fall, I checked the drooping sunflower heads for signs the seeds were mature. For example, on the mammoth sunflowers, the seeds start out white, but then the telltale gray stripes appear as they ripen. Another sign that the seeds are ready? The squirrels and birds start going after them. 

The critters got most of our sunflower seeds (in fact, I watched a squirrel drag a whole sunflower stalk up a tree), but I did manage to save three of the mammoth sunflower heads and a couple from the smaller varieties, whose seeds I'm saving to replant next year. So, when the flower heads had drooped, the outer petals had wilted and fallen off, the calyx (the back of the flower) had begun to dry out, and the seeds looked ripe, I cut off the flower heads along with a handful's length of stem.

The next step was to rub away the remaining tiny petals that covered the seeds. This is easily done with your thumbs, and your hands will smell like flowers afterward. But, careful! There are also some prickly parts of the sunflower -- especially along the stem. I had a few spiny splinter-things to pull from my fingers later.

Then, I put my flower heads in a large paper grocery bag, which I hung from the basement ceiling, where they could finish drying out in a cool, dry, dark place away from dust and (eek!) mice. And there, I let them dry out for... a couple of months! Because I just left them there until we finally got around to dealing with them.

In late December, I finally harvested the seeds. That meant more thumb-rubbing to loosen the seeds from the flower head. I'm saving some seeds for planting next spring. Those went straight from the flower into an envelope. Most of the mammoth seeds we roasted to eat.

This is my first time harvesting and roasting homegrown sunflower seeds, so I Googled around. The method I tried called for soaking the seeds in salted water overnight, letting them air dry, and then roasting them at 300 degrees for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Easy. Except... 

What do I do with all this extra chaff that came out with the seeds? Is there an easier way to get rid of this stuff than hand-picking every little speck? 

First, I tried putting the seeds 'n' stuff through a salad spinner. No go. Only the smallest bits of chaff came out, and so did some of the seeds. There is, however, a simple, easy way to separate the seeds from the chaff, and it's been done since the begining of humans' harvesting things.

You spread the seeds and junk out on a cookie sheet, shake it around, and blow on it. Lightly, now. It's easy enough to blow the seeds right off of the tray, too, so the trick is to whiff away the chaff but make sure the slightly heavier seeds stay put. You can also set up a fan to blow the air for you. You'll have to give the tray a few more shakes, blow again, shake again, blow again. Ever so lightly.

It works pretty well. Oh, and makes a giant mess. Do this outside or over a really big sink.

The end result? Tasty.


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