Everything I had read said that roasting sunflower seeds is easy. And it was, after hours of learning the physics of dislodging the seeds(once with social help and once by my helpless self) from the flower heads, then after another few hours of trying to clean out the debris, there was nothing to soaking and roasting the seeds. Easy peasy. Soak them in salt water for a while, followed by some sort of drying technique.
The soaking is to make them salty. With all of the recipes recommending ¼ to ½ cup of salt in 2 quarts of water, I decided to go middle of the road and use ⅓ cup. Many of the recipes specified kosher salt, though when it is being put in solution for several hours it would just dissolve, if my understanding of basic chemistry is correct. No advantage there, since the only thing different about it is the size of its grains. My kosher salt was in better supply than table salt in the upstairs pantry, though, so that is what I used. What the recipes didn’t have anything to say about was how many sunflower seeds (still in shells) to mix in with the water. I poured in as many as would fit in the space, then found they floated. I put a dinner plate over them, with a large can weighting it down. That kept most of the seeds in the solution. There was only slight expansion of the seeds with water absorption, so most of them stayed in contact with the salty water. I left them in it for almost exactly 8 hours.
At first I thought I would try both the dehydrator and the oven roasting in order to compare. I began with the dehydrator method pretty much because it was bed time and I needed sleep. It took very little time to drain the seeds through a wire mesh strainer, which I figured would let the water through more than the plastic colanders with the more spaced, albeit larger, holes. I went with the higher empty space of the mesh since the dimensions of water molecules are very small. That was my tired brain logic and it made me feel good to contemplate the odd surface area ratios of kitchen colanders. I skipped patting them dry with anything, as they were not dripping at all and it would have taken me a good hour, during which time I would have been crying due to exhaustion.
Somewhere I had seen that the sunflower seeds didn’t need to absolutely be in a single layer, and that, in fact, they could be slightly piled. That was limited by the spaces that the dehydrator trays needed to fit into, since I thought I would have a full load. (If it wasn’t a full load, I could leave alternating trays out if more height was needed.) The dehydrator temperature knob only has settings on the 5’s for some reason, showing just the numbers 95 and 105 in the range I needed. So I had to figure out how to set it for 100°F without having it on an exactly labeled mark. If you have any tendencies like I do for precision, you understand that this borders on a leap of faith for me. But, I managed to estimate a knob position for 100°F. I went to bed. Again, 8 was the magic number. I slept exactly 8 hours and miraculously popped out of bed remembering to check the sunflower seeds. They were completely dry.
In the morning there were several people who came around to visit and helped me test the sunflower seeds. Happily, my parents were there to taste some of the fruit of their labor, as was a friend of mine who had roasted sunflower seeds in her oven before. She rated my seeds as perfectly done. Dry and crisp enough to snap open with a gentle bite, but not scorched. She said it was difficult to keep them from scorching in the oven and thus talked me out of trying it. In my opinion, there was no noticeable salt flavor. However, the kernels of the seeds tasted good, other than the occasional prepackaged bug that had burrowed into the shell. For reasons that I will leave up to your imagination, we were unable to tell what sort of bugs had been stowaways. My husband is always telling me bugs are just extra protein. I am torn about whether to tell him ahead of time what to watch out for.
Packaging was a dilemma. Jars, vacuumed sealed, were my emotional first choice. They stack nicely and using the machine is So. Much. Fun. However, these seeds are mostly a snack for my husband who likes to have a non-breakable, disposable container that fits in any little cubby hole of his car that happens to be handy. He must have sensed something when I presented options. He decreed I could put some in jars and some in ziplock bags. He snacks on them at home, too, and a ½ pint canning jar will be nice for the end table when he is in his recliner, being less likely to dump from falling sideways. Win-win. Everyone was happy.
I have actually kept sunflower seeds hanging around before for a couple of years. I just never got to cleaning out the debris or drying them. Dear hubby just picked through it all and ate them raw. So we knew that they save well here in our climate. Some resources said the seeds needed to be stirred every week or so to keep them from molding. I did not do that. Southwest Idaho is a good place to keep seed dry without even trying.
If there is a famine or a disaster, we have enough sunflower seeds to tide us over for a while. Plus, we won’t have too much time to think about our destitute situation because we will be spending all our time cracking enough open for a meal. Sans disaster, I can at least say that I have provided a healthy, interesting snack for the family.