I saw this method on an American homesteading site, she went on about how great it was and that it could be used as a replacement for coconut flour. As we can’t grow coconuts here, but usually have plenty of courgettes and marrows, I thought this could be good…
The directions were easy enough, grate the courgette, spread on trays and dehydrate till very dry, then grind into flour. I started with 2773g of marrow, peeled, deseeded and grated it was down to 1716g. I decided to put it in a cloth and squeeze out any extra moisture before dehydrating, courgettes are mostly water so this should speed up the dehydrating time. Then spread it on trays to dehydrate…
Hours later and I still had a wettish mass. Because we are off grid on solar power and with it getting later in the day, I decided to put some in the woodstove oven, which was still a bit too hot and dried it too crispy. The other trays were still not dry so popped it all in the oven. Was getting a bit frustrated with it by this time, especially when I got busy elsewhere and dried it to brown and crispy… I removed all the fiddly tiny dried bits and put the moist stuff back into to dry some more.
Finally it was dry and I could grind it up in the blender to a reasonably flour like texture and it was weighed in at 64g, maybe ½ a cup of flour. All that time and effort for ½ a cup of flour. If you were paying for the power to dehydrate the courgette on top of the time taken, it just doesn’t seem worth it to me.
I tried again a few days later, with thin slices of marrow, this was actually easier and the drying time seemed similar. I think if we had the solar dehydrator up and running or drying racks above the woodstove then this would be the way to go with dehydrating courgettes or marrows, as due to their high-water content the drying does take a lot of time. But at least by leaving it in slices I avoided all the fiddliness that came with the grated courgette.
I had pretty much decided that we would just use the courgettes and marrows without dehydrating, as they are actually a useful baking ingredient when used fresh. From chocolate cakes to fritters and pizza bases, grated courgette has many uses. Mature marrows can be stored for several months and used in the same way as courgettes. But then I tried baking a marrow flour chocolate cake… Wow! it really is just as good as coconut flour and with no coconut flavour or the odd texture that coconut can have, so better than coconut flour! Plus you only need 1/2 a cup of flour to bake a cake.
So next season (fed all the marrows to the pigs in annoyance and forgot about my pizza bases!! oops) we will sort a better drying system and try again. But just thinking about it we do still have Austrian oilseed pumpkins to deseed, hmmm…
I have put these two seeds in a post together partly because we often use them together and partly because I found the sunflower seed de-husking to be so time consuming and frustrating that I have given up on them as a homegrown flour option. That is until I find a faster de-husking method that actually works…
Pumpkin seed flour
While all pumpkins have seeds, it is the hull-less or ‘naked’ seed varieties which are usually grown specially for their edible seeds. We grow the Austrian oilseed pumpkin which has lovely green hull-less seeds. The flesh we find to be rather tasteless, so not good as roast pumpkin or for any pumpkiny recipes. But if you treat it more as a vegetable soup or stew vege, it still has its use in the kitchen, grated it could be used place of courgette or marrow in some recipes. We will often use it as pig food over the slower grass growth months, just harvesting the seeds as we need them. Pumpkin plants are easy to grow and if given well fed soil will produce several pumpkins per plant. They are grown over the warmer months as they are frost tender and once the plant starts to die down the mature pumpkins can be harvested and stored in a dry airy place out of the sun. Leaving the pumpkins to finish maturing off the vine for a couple of weeks before harvesting the seed will give you a better seed harvest.
The seeds are easy to harvest, simply cut the pumpkin in half and pull the seeds from the flesh. They should come away quite clean if you just pull on the seeds. These seeds then need to be dried; this can be done in the sun on a tray, a dehydrator or in the oven on the lowest setting. It should only take a couple hours depending on the temp, too high and you’ll get roasted pumpkin seeds, which are very tasty. Prior to drying seeds can be soaked to remove the excess tannins, phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors which makes the nutrients more bio available, more info on that in our Walnut flour post.
Once fully dry simply store in airtight container in a cool dark place or in the fridge if necessary. Grinding fresh and using within the week keeps your flour in top condition.
While each pumpkin only yielded about 60g of dried seeds the fact that the flesh can also be used, even if it’s just for pig food, adds value to the crop. Unlike nuts which take many years to produce pumpkins supply the goods over just one summer, so a fast flour crop to establish. Nutrition wise pumpkin seeds have per 100g approximately, carbs 15g, protein 30g and healthy fat 49g. But they are also full of valuable nutrients like magnesium and zinc, so a great addition to your diet.
Sunflower seed flour
Sunflowers are the epitome of summer with their large bright flower heads that follow the path of the sun. But it seems that I just grow them for the sake of having them in the garden, as hulling the seeds is not a job I enjoy. Most often ours end up as chook fun, as we let them have the hulling job. This is the one flour that I have tried which, at this stage, I will just leave to the mass producers. It took me an hour of trying different hulling methods to get a very small amount of hulled seed and most of the seed was still in the shells…
Considering I can buy sunflower seeds for under $9 per kilo it just doesn’t seem worth it to hull them for flour, for snacks yes, I’m fine with that, it’s part of the fun. But taking a couple of hours of fiddly work for just 1 cup of flour just doesn’t do it for me.
However they are still a great alternative flour which you can grow at home! Not too mention the other great reasons to grow sunflowers, summer garden shade, bee food, bird food, stock fodder (our cow decapitated several which were too close to the fence). But even better, their deep roots open up and aerate the soil, then if left in place to die down, they feed and mulch the soil which also increases the soils water holding capacity. Be aware however that Sunflowers are considered to be allelopathic, which means they suppress the growth of other plants surrounding them. The petals were apparently used in ancient Iranian and Chinese medicine in the form of herbal teas to heal wounds, lower blood pressure, strengthen the stomach and bring on childbirth.
Nutritionally sunflower seeds have per 100g, approximately, carbs 23g, healthy fats 55g, protein 17g plus lots more valuable nutrients such as vitamin E and selenium. As above soaking prior to drying helps to make these the nutrients more bio available. Once fully dry, simply store in airtight container in a cool dark place or in the fridge if necessary. Grinding fresh and using within the week keeps your flour in top condition.
Both pumpkin seed and sunflower seed flour can be used in most recipes which use seed or nut flour, but pumpkin seed tends to have a stronger flavour. We use them mainly in bread or cracker recipes.
We struggled to find foraged walnuts for this trial as there are only Japanese walnuts on our property and those the pigs can have. But having processed walnuts many times in the past, we have noticed there is a vast difference in the size and quality of nuts from various trees. The larger nuts are course easier to process, but we have found that sometimes the smaller nuts can be very tasty. Finding a nut which you like the taste of would be a good idea as some are sweeter than others and some can be bitter. Interestingly I have seen talk that the longer the outer husk stays on the shell the more bitter the nut will be, but we have not tested this theory yet. Usually, walnuts are dried before eating, this drying time will vary depending on the moisture around, so a warm dry spot out of the sun is best and dry until the nuts are no longer rubbery and have more of a crunch. Once dried you should be able to store them for at least a year in their shells in a cool dry place. Just make sure it is rodent proof…
If you live in a damp environment, have issues with rodents or just want to try a tasty method, they can be ‘activated’. This is the process of soaking nuts in salted water to remove excess tannins, phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. It activates enzymes within the nut which neutralize the enzyme inhibitors. Many traditional cultures understood the need to ‘treat’ some foods before consuming. Nuts and seeds were often soaked or partially sprouted prior to eating. The reason for this is that the enzyme inhibitors that they contain can put a strain on your digestive system if large amounts of raw nuts and seeds are consumed. This practice of soaking the nuts not only makes them easier to digest but also extremely tasty. Once soaked the nuts are dehydrated and develop a lovely crispy texture with a touch of saltiness. The practice of ‘activating’ nuts and seeds goes back to ancient cultures such as the Aztec who used to soak their pumpkin seeds in brine and then dry in the sun before eating them whole or grinding them into meal. For more information on this look into Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, or the work of Weston A Price who researched diets of indigenous cultures in the early 1900s.
‘Activated’ Crispy NutsRecipe
4 cups of Nuts
1 Tablespoon Sea salt
Enough water to cover, preferably filtered or spring water.
Put in a non-reactive bowl (stainless steel, glass or pottery), stir and leave in warm place for at least 7 hours or overnight. Drain in a colander and dehydrate until completely dry and crisp. If you don’t have a dehydrator this can be done in a warm oven at approx 50°c to 65°c for 12 to 24 hours, make sure nuts are spread single layer on the tray for faster drying. Store dried nuts in an airtight container.
Walnuts are best stored in the fridge due to their large amounts of linoleic acid which makes them more susceptible to rancidity.
A point to note is that if you do use this method, the incredibly morish nuts do have a slight saltiness so if you make flour from them you might want to omit the salt from any recipe you bake with the flour.
Back to the flour making.
We hand cracked 500g of walnuts, the hammer and towel method would probably have been faster but needed to be inside to keep an eye on the pressure canner, multitasking! This yielded 113g of flesh but they were not the best quality nuts and were not very plump. Good walnuts should give a much better yield. The nuts had been nicely dried and ground well in our manual grinder, producing a good walnut flour.
I tried a keto butter biscuit recipe, which turned out well, but the bikkies didn’t hold their shape as well as the recipe made out they would. Though the original recipe used almond flour not walnut, generally you can mix and match nut flours, except coconut which absorbs a lot of moisture. The bikkies were quite tasty with just a touch of bitterness, which I don’t mind.
Walnuts do have a distinctive flavour which will affect the baked product, great in carrot cakes and as a walnut biscuit or bread. Nutrition wise walnuts have per 100g, approximately 14g carbs, 65g fat and 15g protein. This might alter a bit if the ‘activation’ method is used.
For ease of processing and quality of flour, walnuts would have to be at the top of my list along with hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds.
Walnut – Juglans regia
Fast growing deciduous tree reaching 15m plus. Seedling trees will produce edible nuts, but there will be natural variation between trees and they are generally considered to take longer to produce nuts than a grafted tree. Buying a grafted tree will give you an idea of the type of nut it will produce and the size of the grown tree. While they are a hardy tree walnuts do not like wet ground, so plant in free draining area. Any surplus nuts are great fodder or forage for livestock especially for fattening pigs. The timber is valued for making beautiful furniture.
There is a chestnut grove near us, apparently in all the years it has been producing it has never been harvested apart from some locals filling their buckets. Probably partly because of the time-consuming harvesting and their limited shelf-life, which is due to their high water content. This makes them more prone to growing mould or rotting that most other nuts, which have a higher fat content and are more likely to go rancid when old. Chestnuts in their shell will be good for up to a week and if stored in the fridge this can be extended up to a month. Chestnut flour should be used within a day or so or stored in the freezer for up to a year. Apparently chestnuts should be eaten cooked due to their high tannin content when raw.
Most chestnut peeling methods we investigated called for the nut shell to be scored either across the base or around the side before heating it to release the shell. Methods included microwaving (we haven’t owned one for at least 20 years) roasting or boiling. Roasting sounded good but I found that while the outer shell came away easy the inner skin dried out and was very hard to remove. Immersing them in boiling water for a couple of minutes helped some of the nuts inner skins peeled well, but for most it was a time-consuming tedious task. For this lot I started with 300g of fresh chestnuts roasted 15min, yielded 200g peeled nuts, then dehydrated ground flour 94g. I used the woodstove to dry them and may have over dried them a little.
These same methods all said that the inner skin was bitter if left on and this seemed to be the only reason for removing it. Further research showed the skin would be non-digestible fibre, which is helpful in the intestines to keep things moving so not an issue there. Another method I saw from a local lady kept the skin on and blended the dried nut with skin into chestnut flour. This would save a lot of time and a few taste tests showed no noticeable bitterness in the skin. We chose to boil the next lot of chestnuts for about a recommended eight minutes to make peeling easier and tried different scoring methods. The nuts with the cross cut across the base, right through the shell and skin were the easiest to peel, a single cut on the base or side did not seem to let enough boiling water in to soften the shell enough. It is best to leave the chestnuts in the water, removing just a few at a time to peel as they are harder to peel if they dry out. We did find after peeling about 4kg of chestnuts that it was rather drying on your hands and when scoring them you need a sharp and comfortable knife if doing a lot.
The nuts were then sliced and spread on dehydrator trays in a single layer and dried for a few hours, I decided not to fully dehydrate as the edges were getting hard and I did not want hard bits in the flour. Since the flour was to be frozen for storage the slight moisture content should be fine.
For this lot we started with 1 kg fresh chestnuts, deshelled but still with skin we had 903g, these were partially dehydrated which gave us 648g to be ground into flour. One cup of chestnut flour equaled 120g. I used this flour in our Keto bread recipe and found it worked well, producing a slightly moister loaf than other nut flours. In the bikkie recipe I did notice that if the chestnut was not ground up well you did end up with some firmer lumps of the skin which were slightly bitter, but if ground finely this was not an issue. The removal of thicker pieces of skin while peeling would mitigate this issue also.
Chestnuts are higher in carbohydrates than most other nuts, for each 100g of boiled chestnut they contain approximately 28g of carbohydrates, 1.4g of fat and 2g of protein. Hazelnuts, in comparison, are approximately 17g carbohydrates, 61g fat and 14g protein. Apparently, chestnuts retain more carbohydrates if roasted at about 50g per 100g serving. So, boiling must remove a large portion of the carbohydrates and is therefore a better method if you are low-carb.
Over all I found chestnuts be rather labour intensive and have to be dealt with quite promptly after harvest unlike other nuts. But the flour is quite good with a mild flavour and can easily be frozen and used from the container for bread and baking.
Here’s some more information on chestnut trees…
Sweet Chestnut – Castanea sativa
An attractive deciduous tree reaching approx. 30 metres in height. Preferring slightly acidic free draining soils and dislikes waterlogged, alkaline soils and exposed sites. Both male and female flowers appear in summer on the same stalk, these are wind and insect pollenated. The edible nuts develop in a prickly case that splits open in autumn when they are ripe. The nuts and leaves etc. can be used as stock fodder and all parts of the tree, except the actual nut, are said to have anthelmintic (anti worming) properties.
Sweet Chestnut is a durable wood which coppices very well and can be coppiced at various ages for different purposes. At 5 years timber is used for walking sticks, yurt poles, garden stakes, woven panels, balustrades and rustic furniture. At 7-12 years, rustic furniture, laths, pales, garden arches, gate hurdles, trellis panels and trug handles. 20 years, rustic furniture, laths, pales, charcoal, firewood, barrels, fencing posts. 30 + years, roundwood timber framing, post-and-rail fencing, fencing posts, decking, cladding, arbours, gates, shingles, window frames, charcoal and firewood.
We were fortunate to have access to an established and multi-cultivar hazel grove this autumn. While picking them up can be a time-consuming job, I prefer to think of it as a time of connecting with nature. The fossicking amongst the fallen leaves and old nut shells is a bit like gathering treasures under the dappled shade of the hazel trees.
We put the nuts up in our drying cupboard for a couple of weeks before I got around to our flour trial. Cracking by hand provided tedious until I decided to try putting them in an old towel on the concrete, I then folded the towel over the top to stop missiles and tapped them firmly enough, through the towel, to crack the shell. This was very successful with ½ a kg cracked and sorted in a short time, much faster than the hand held nut cracker. From 500g of nuts I weighed 185g of hazelnut flesh, the nut shells will find a use in the compost or as biochar. At this stage some might blanch the nuts to remove the inner skin, but that just seems like extra unnecessary work so we will process with the extra indigestible fibre (good for keeping you regular!)
I used the old flour grinder to process most of the nut flesh into a course meal, then processed the rest with our food processors grinding attachment. This resulted in a much finer flour and only took about 30 seconds. Both of these flours were used to make a low carb cookie recipe and the rest will be used in our next loaf of keto bread. Most nut and seed flours are interchangeable so it will mainly be a flavour and possibly a colour change. The flour worked well though I did notice I had to add a bit more liquid to the cookie dough.
The fats in nuts can go rancid over time so the flour is best stored in the fridge or freezer, otherwise leave the nuts in their shell and only process what you will use in a week. Try to make sure all the nut shell pieces are removed as biting them in a cookie is not a nice experience.
Here’s some more info on Hazel trees.
Though more of a deciduous shrub than a tree, the Hazel is one of the most useful woodlot plants. Fast growing and multi stemmed it can still reach 12 m or more in height if left to grow. But Hazels are often coppiced and the many straight stems produced have many uses. Both the pendulous male catkins and small female flowers are born on the same tree and are wind pollenated. In nut production a different cultivar of pollinator Hazel is often necessary to achieve high pollination rates. These early spring flowers can provide early feed for bees. While mostly known for its nuts, the Hazel leaves are also a highly palatable forage for livestock. Widely used as a hedgerow plant, many English villages would often have an area of Hazel coppice, which was traditionally cut on a seven-year cycle. Hazel is the traditional material of hurdle making (woven fence panels) due to its ability, when twisted, to form a strong ‘rope’ of separated fibers. This means the wood can be twisted back upon its self to form the woven panels of the hurdle. Other uses include thatching spars, walking sticks, garden stakes, garden climbing frames, baskets, traps, crates and many other useful everyday items.