Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sunflower Seeds: A Russian National Craze

Welcome to Rostov-on-Don, the sunflower capital of the world. I just made that up, to be totally honest. But you know, if it's not the Sunflower Capital of the world, this area deserves to be. They say that Russia is the foremost producer of sunflower seeds and that the Rostov Region is home to 20% of the sunflower growing area in Russia. Probably more sunflowers than Kansas, anyway.

Come summer, there are sunflowers galore around here. If you love sunflower seeds or sunflower seed oil or the candy made from sunflower seeds or even the candy made from sunflower seed husks, this is a good place to be. Welcome!

How 'bout some seeds right now? This babyshka, this dear Russian grandmother, roasted them herself just for you. And a few extra rubles would help supplement her pension.

Russians chew sunflower seeds like Americans chew gum. Or popcorn or peanuts in the shell. They sit and nibble sunflower seeds absentmindedly. Above are Zhenya and Zhenya nibbing seeds last Saturday afternoon in our church kitchen. But we certainly wouldn't want to accuse them of absentminded nibbling.

Most often people drop hulls everywhere – on tables, under park benches. Worse than birds. And believe me, I know a thing or two about birds and their seed-throwing habits. Worse than little piglets, they are. The birds, that is.

These seeds belong to a lady selling fruit and nibbling seeds during slow times. Oddly enough, she declined the opportunity to demonstrate for you the art of seed splitting. Very different from seed spitting, of course.

Back in the time of the czars, Russian soldiers were sent off into the field with a 2-pound sack of sunflower seeds for food. Quite nutritious – protein, iron, potassium but plenty of calories too. Now if a bumblebee happened into the seeds, the protein value would skyrocket. As would the soldier if he got stung. Oy!

In this area, chances are most every household has a bowl of seeds for folks to dip into, like bowl of candy. Certainly more nutritious than M & Ms. Although not nearly as colorful.

Have you nibbled on sunflower seeds lately? Well what's holding you back? ;)


Bri said...

You have a wonderful style of writing, Eileen! I have to show this post to Randy--he loves sunflower seeds! Especially on a long road trip :-)

Anonymous said...

I live in the American Midwest, where the soil--or "Chernozem"--is likely every bit as rich and black as that found in the Russian countryside. Indeed the American Midwest--so say agronomists--bears a strong physical resemblance to parts of Russia's and Ukraine's 'bread basket.' Six years ago, on a lark, I purchased and then planted two packages of "Mammoth Russian" sunflower seeds, and was incredulous when the seeds with a few short weeks produced sunflower plants whose shafts were several inches in circumference and no less than 12 feet in height. The spectacular saffron bloom of each plant similarly produced thousands of seeds upon which clouds of birds of virtually every size, shape, and color happily preyed for days on end.

I would so love to see Rostov. Were you aware that Solzhenitsyn's beloved mother spent her last days living in the city, during the war? As I recall, ownership of the city changed hands at least twice before the Nazis were driven westward for good.

Very compelling website you have here!

Joseph said...

Very good pictures and blog writing. The whole Sunflower yard is yours?

I only grow my Sunflower in pots as we do not have any backyard.

Mike said...

very nice looking flowers.Our sunflowers just reached 4 feet and growing good. I live in the Boston area.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I've been exploring Russian cuisine through a wonderful Russian shop in my neighborhood (Washington Heights, NYC) and was surprised to discover this fascination with sunflower seeds. The most delicious aspect of it, to my taste, is the unrefined sunflower seed oil. So fragrant and full-flavored.