Sunflowers: Growing Tips and Recipes with Sunflower Seeds

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PHOTO: FOTOLIA/RUSLAN OLINCHUK
Glorious sunflowers are garden gold.

I’ll bet that half of all the folks who tended gardens this
year raised sunflowers. Unfortunately, I can also safely
wager that relatively few of those growers will actually
use their sky-scraping flowers (which, apparently,
have been cultivated strictly for ornamental value). What a
waste!

Sunflower seeds contain 55% protein (almost as much, by
weight, as steak) and considerable quantities of B vitamins
… plus calcium, phosphorus, iron, nitrogen, and vitamins
A and E. As an added bonus for weight watchers, the plant’s
seeds test out at only 48 calories per tablespoon (as
opposed to 85 calories for the same amount of peanuts ..
sorry about that, Jimmy Carter).

The petals and seeds of the sunflower can be turned into
natural dyes, and the empty seed hulls are sometimes used
as a coffee substitute. German pipe smokers occasionally
even dry the plant’s leaves and use them for tobacco. And,
if you’re a weaver, you probably already know that the
stalks of the sunflower when treated like
flax will yield silk-like fibers that are
tough enough to work with.

In short, if you grew sunflowers this year “just for the
fun of it”, the real fun is about to begin!

Now’s the time to wrap the big, nodding heads on your
sunflowers with cheesecloth or to slip mesh bags down over
them (to protect the seed-loaded tops from snack-loving
birds). Or, if the seeds are large enough, you can simply
cut off the heads leaving about two feet
of stem attached to them-and hang the heavy “plates” upside
down in a well-ventilated attic or other non-humid place.

When the backs of the heads have turned completely brown
and there’s no trace of green left, the seeds have fully
matured and are ready to be removed. Some folks coax them
off with a stiff-wire brush, fish scaler, or similar tool.
But if you’re working with more than just a few flowers,
you May want to stretch and nail a piece of half-inch-mesh
hardware cloth over a wooden box, and gently rub the flower
heads over the screen. The seeds will fall through the mesh
and collect in the container.

If you find that a number of the nuggets are still somewhat
“green”, spread ’em out on a newspaper and let them dry a
little longer. Then, once the seeds are completely
free of moisture, you can store them in small covered jars
(they’ll heat up and lose nutritional value if kept
together in large quantities). Stir the seeds every couple
of weeks to keep ’em from becoming musty.

Remember that the edible nutmeats inside sunflower seeds
lose their vitamins when exposed to the air for any length
of time … so it’s a good idea to shell the food only as
you need it. Roasted seeds eaten as a snack, of course, are
cracked open and popped into the mouth individually, just
as nuts are. But if you’re going to use quantities of the
raw kernels for cooking, you’ll have to adopt a more
productive method.

One good technique is to soak the seeds in cold water for
several hours. The husks eventually soften, and can then be
removed quite easily. Or, you can spread your “victims”
between two layers of newspaper, and crush the hulls with
an old-fashioned rolling pin.

Another method is revealed in Euell Gibbons’ Stalking
The Wild Asparagus.
“I discovered that if the seeds
were run through a food chopper fitted with a plate barely
large enough to prevent the seed going through whole,”
writes Euell, “the shells would be cracked off.” Mr.
Gibbons then dumped the crushed hull-andkernel mixture into
a large bowl of water, and let it stand for half an hour.
The light outer coverings floated to the top of the liquid
and were skimmed off … and the heavy kernels-which stayed
at the bottom-were poured into a piece of muslin, squeezed,
spread on a baking sheet, and dried in a slow oven!

Incidentally, the process just described was Euell’s way of
getting ready to make a flour-like sunflower-seed meal …
and you can do that, too! When the crushed kernels are dry,
pass them through a sieve, and save the pieces that won’t
go through for use as nuts in cookies and such. The portion
which is small enough to come out the other side can then
be put through a food chopperusing the finest plate
attachment possible-or a grain mill. Result? You’ll have a
supertasty high-protein meal that can be used as an
“extender” in meat loafs and the like … and as a
substitute for some of the flour in baking recipes.

Speaking of recipes, the ones that follow are just a few of
my favorites. Try ’em, and then to a little experimenting
on your own. See for yourself why sunflowers really
are
gold from the garden!

Using a mixer, blend egg, oil, and sugar to a creamy
consistency. Add the milk and stir in thoroughly. In a
separate bowl, sift together the whole wheat flour,
sunflower meal, salt, and baking powder. Add the dry
ingredients to the liquid blend, stirring only enough to
mix. Then spoon batter into greased muffin tin, and bake
twenty to thirty minutes at 400° F.

Sunflower Pancakes

2 packages active yeast (dry or compressed)
1-1/2 cups lukewarm milk
2 tablespoons raw sugar
2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds (chopped, or put through
grinder to make a paste)
1-1/2 cups sifted whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon salt

Soften yeast in lukewarm milk, and stir in remaining
ingredients. Spoon the mixture onto a moderately hot
griddle. Cook slowly until bottom side is brown and bubbles
have formed on upper surface. Turn and bake until other
side is done. Serve immediately.

Salted Sunflower Seeds

Place seeds in a large jar or crock, and cover them with a
saltwater solution (one tablespoon of sea salt for each
pint of water you use). Let soak overnight. The next day,
dry the seeds in the sun or with paper towels, and spread
them on a baking sheet. Roast in a moderate (300° F)
oven for fifteen minutes stirring
frequently until the seeds are light
brown.

High-Protein Sunflower Loaf

1 cup cooked millet
1/4 cup finely chopped green pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1 1 /2 teaspoons sea salt (optional)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 cup whole wheat broad crumbs
1 cup grated cheese
1/2 cup powdered milk
1 egg
1/2 cup milk

Mix all ingredients. Place in greased loaf pan and bake at
350° F for 1 hour. Serve hot with tomato or mushroom
sauce. Makes a meal for six people.

Sunflower-Stuffed Prunes or Dates

Using a food grinder, make a paste of raw sunflower
kernels, sesame meal, and honey or raw sugar. Remove pits
from prunes or dates and stuff with the mixture.

No-Cook Fruit and Nut Candy

1 cup dates
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup nuts (walnuts, almonds, etc.)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds

Finely grind and mix together all ingredients. Mold mixture
into small balls and roll in natural shredded coconut.
Other fruits may be used in place of or in
addition to the dates and raisins.

Sunflower Seed Coffee

Brown empty hulls of sunflower seeds in a small frying pan
(be careful not to let them burn) and grind the hulls in a
grain mill. Then, for each cup of beverage, steep 1
teaspoon of the ground hulls (more or less, to taste) in
one cup of boiling water for three minutes. Drink as is, or
sweeten with honey.