Looking out my living room window one afternoon I saw the strangest sight, a squirrel, about 8 feet off the ground, upside down, with his tail sticking straight up in the air. Quietly walking closer to investigate, I found that the squirrel had climbed up one of my tall sunflower plants, the top of which was bending over due to the weight of the squirrel, who, clutching the plant stalk with his hind legs, now greedily was digging into the sunflower flower to eat the ripening seeds. Oh, where is the camera when you need it? By the time I had retrieved mine, the squirrel was already heading down the plant.
But that did get me thinking, why leave all the sunflower seeds to the squirrels? The sunflower variety the squirrel was enjoying produces small seeds, too small for me to bother with. But I had other sunflowers, the mammoth variety, which produces big seeds, the kind that can easily be roasted.
By the time I got around to it, the squirrels and birds had already eaten all the seeds from every flower except one. The seeds were clearly visible, I pulled one out to check to make sure the size was big enough, cracked it open and ate the raw seed inside. Perfect! I then placed the flower head on a table (outside, it’s rather messy) and rubbed out as many of the big seeds as I could. This would be a fun activity to do with kids if you grow big sunflowers in your garden. I then boiled the seeds in salted water, drained them, laid them out in a roasting pan, and roasted them.
The question that you may have, and I certainly did, is, is there any way to easily shell the seeds, so you don’t have to go through the painstaking process yourself for each nibble? There is, but it requires expensive commercial machinery. Oh well. The good news is that in-shell, these seeds are hard to overeat! You have to work for it.
If you grow your own sunflowers, the flowers will tell you when they are ready. They'll be droopy, and the petals around the center will be dried. The seeds should be clearly visible. The best seeds for eating come from the larger varieties of sunflowers. Just cut away the flower head from the stalk, place the flower head on a flat surface, and rub the center to dislodge the seeds from the flower. If squirrels and birds can get to these seeds, so can you!
These directions are for salted, roasted sunflower seeds. If you don't want them salted, just rinse them off and roast them. Because they aren't soaked through with water, they'll roast much more quickly, perhaps only a few minutes at 400°F.
- 1 cup raw in-shell sunflower seeds
- 2 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt, or 2 Tbsp table salt*
- 1 quart water
* Add more or less salt to taste, up to 1/4 cup Kosher salt for 1 quart of water.
1 Place sunflower seeds, salt, and water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
2 Drain the water from the seeds and spread the seeds out in a single layer in a sheet pan. Place in a 400°F oven on the top rack and roast for 10 to 15 minutes. Starting at about 10 minutes, I recommend taking a few out of the oven to test. If they are not roasted yet to your satisfaction, return them to the oven for another 2 to 5 minutes. Keep checking every few minutes until they are dry enough and roasted to your satisfaction. The seeds can quickly go from done (dry and easy to bite to open) to charred (browned on outside and black on the inside). So as the time gets closer, keep an eye on it.