October 5, 2005
Seeds for Experimentation

sunflowers.jpgMy garden this year was only half successful. The glorious courgette, aubergine and pumpkin plants flourished for weeks, producing dozens of flowers. And then they withered for reasons unknown to me, their leaves covered with a white sheen. Too little water? Too much pollution? I'm afraid I'll probably never know. The tomatoes did well enough, though, and I'm still eating the last of their fruit. Herbs are always fairly successful, though I have to admit that I buy thyme and rosemary plants, rather than growing them from seed. And one of the surprise success stories was the sunflower seeds I planted: five sturdy plants grew out of the seeds I planted. When I left on holiday they were in prime condition, one with a flower open and the rest with promising buds.

The catsitter over-fed the cat and under-watered the plants. Sigh. Still most were still alive when we got back (most importantly the fat furry black one) and I coaxed the sunflowers back to something like life with copious amounts of water. In the end, I found myself with one decent sized flower, one medium and a few tiny ones that weren't worth photographing. Some people grow sunflowers because they think the flowers are pretty. I grow them because I love sunflower seeds.

When I was much younger and even shorter than I am now, my mother grew sunflowers one year. I remember it distinctly. What I don't remember distinctly is what she did with the seeds. So I turned to the trusty Internet and compared all the advice and recipes I could find. One of the sites (which I couldn't find again when it came to actually doing it) suggested soaking the seeds in salted water before toasting them in the oven. I carefully extracted seeds from the flower head until I was so bored I couldn't take it any more. I then decided the remaining seeds were "too small" and would make great bird food. (There's a limit to my enthusiasm for sunflower seeds, it seems.) I put the half cup of seeds in a bowl, covered them with water and stirred in about a tablespoon of salt. (As an aside, I found it mildly disturbing how much the seeds resembled little dead fireflies or box elder bugs...)

Then I turned to seed experiment number two: acorn squash seeds. I've never bothered to toast acorn squash seeds but as I love pumpkin seeds (okay pretty much all seeds) I thought it was worth experimenting to see how they would measure up. I treated them exactly as I would pumpkin seeds: extract them from the stringy flesh, wash them as best I could, let them dry and then tossed them with oil. In the US I always used corn oil, but it's less common here and I've gotten used to substituting sunflower oil. It's healthier anyway, or so I am told.

I drained the sunflower seeds and arranged them prettily on a pizza pan with the squash seeds, in a single layer. I figured that although the sunflower seeds were smaller than the squash seeds the fact that they were wet would bring their roasting time to about the same length. And I was right: after 10 minutes, the squash seeds were nice and brown and the sunflower seeds were crisp and dry.

A small piece of advice: watch those seeds carefully because those suckers can go brown in the blink of an eye. I only just got the squash seeds out of the oven in the nick of time!

And the result? Fantastic. The squash seeds were the definite winners in flavour and texture. In fact, they were exactly like I remember pumpkin seeds tasting when I lived in the US. (For some reason, the pumpkin variety I find here yields very rubbery seeds...I'm experimenting with a slow low roast to see if it will solve the problem...and if that doesn't work we'll try a quick, hot roast...) The sunflower seeds were a bit smaller than the commercial ones you find and for that reason you are pretty much obliged to eat them hulls and all. But they are organic and mine and the fruit of my own garden. So all in all, I thought it was a pretty successful experiment.

I finished the squash seeds about fifteen minutes after taking the photo. Now THAT'S success.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at October 5, 2005 1:49 PM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

Was it a very rainy summer, Meg? A white sheen sounds like powdery mildew, which is a fungal infection that happens when there are perpetually damp conditions. You can treat it with powders containing sulphur, but sometimes even that doesn't work.

Posted by Barbara on October 6, 2005 at 12:02 PM

Barbara, it was indeed a rainy summer. I don't suppose you know where (in Paris) one can buy sulfur? Do you dust the plant? Thanks for the tip!

Posted by Meg in Paris on October 7, 2005 at 3:24 PM

I roasted some seeds this weekend. After picking them out of the flower (Meg, I'll come over and do seeds for you someday. I seem to have near-infinite patience for the task). I boiled them in salted water, then dried and roasted them for a long time until they were nice and dry.

I can't wait to take a knife to a pumpkin now!

Posted by barrett on October 10, 2005 at 4:38 PM

Can I plant seeds next year from the sunflowers I grew this year? If so, how?

Please e-mail responses to badachi1@verizon.net


Posted by bonnie on October 18, 2005 at 8:33 PM


I've not tried it yet myself, but I've read that it's perfectly possible to save the seeds and plant them next year. From my gardening books I think the essential thing is to let them air dry completely and then store them in an enveloppe or somewhere that is not airtight. If they have any moisture, they can get mold and possibly become no longer viable. I've put aside a few of the sunflower seeds and the seeds from an acorn squash and am going to try to plant them next spring. Good luck!

Posted by Meg in Paris on October 19, 2005 at 4:59 AM
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