Friday, January 11, 2013

Processing Sunflower Seeds

Last week while it was dark and rainy outside, I decided to "process" one of my sunflowers. It has been hanging in the pantry to cure since mid autumn, and it was nice and dry and ready to be dealt with. Also, I had run out of sunflower seeds, which I usually toast and put on salads, and wasn't in the mood to drive all the way to Whole Foods to replenish my stash. Why spend money when I had a huge sunflower hanging right in the middle of the house?

I had a helper for the first and most satisfying part of the operation: getting the seeds out of the flower. Something about picking those seeds out and seeing just how many there are is very satisfying. Then we were on to phase two: hulling the seeds. My helper quickly lost interest as it became apparent that this is a tedious and SLOW process.

Before I even harvested my sunflowers, I looked into sunflower seed hullers, and it seems there isn't much available for the non-commercial, home sunflower grower. If you want to build a huller (or want to build one for me,) you can find instructions here. I was excited at first, but then I read the "tools required" part of the instructions: Table Saw. Drill Press. Band Saw. Saber Saw. Frankly, it would be easier and cheaper to patronize the bulk foods aisle at Whole Foods every week than build my own sunflower seed huller. This article gives a few at-home methods of hulling the seeds; the first two didn't work at all. Maybe I wasn't smashing the seeds hard enough?

I resorted to hulling my sunflower seeds like a squirrel - biting the shell to crack it and using my fingers to pry the inner part out. After an hour and a half I had just under 1/4 cup of edible seeds. Which, by the way, I couldn't in good conscience share with anyone else, since every single one of them had been in my mouth. Definitely not time effective. They sure tasted great, though. I earned those darn sunflower seeds! When every last seed had been cracked and opened up (and about a third of the seeds in the flower were just empty shells), I had about 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds. Again, neither time nor cost effective. My dreams of making my own sunflower seed butter had disappeared and I began revising my garden plans: maybe filling an entire bed with sunflowers doesn't make sense after all.

My husband tells me there is an old tabletop grain mill in the barn, which I plan to dust off and try using. Everything I've read indicates that is the most effective at-home way of hulling these yummy seeds. I still have three dried flowers hanging up, waiting to be processed. I'll let you know how it goes.

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