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The Seed Celestial

Circling the Square

By Joel E. Cohen

On the consumption of sunflower seeds there are several schools of thought. Biologists, I regret to say, dissect them. "Commonly referred to as a seed," intones the laboratory instructor, "the fruit is an achene (uh-KEEN). Make a longitudinal section, and note the massive embryo, the large, fleshy cotyledons. Is any endosperm present?" And without looking to see, he slips one into his mouth.

Achene as biologists may be on calling a seed a fruit, those who pursue the seed celestial know a seed when they seed one. Lovers of the bloody thumb can buy half pound packs, roasted but unsalted, for 39 cents at Posin's on 16th Street in Washington. These seeds are fresh but you have to crack them yourself. The height of sunflower comes in little glass jars at Cardullo's: roasted, salted, shelled, and sealed, four and a quarter ounces for 57 cents.

But no true savorer of the seed would trust another to roast his kernels for him. Yet few desire the reddened fingers and tattered tongue that comes of shelling them oneself. "If you are ever forced into a sheller's market, however, I suggest you improvise an anvil out of the nearest table and a hammer out of an empty Coke bottle. With luck and experience, you will be able to shell as many as ten in a minute.)

Fortunately, we in Cambridge are in an environment nearly ideal, as in so many other respects, for the consumption of sunflower seeds. Let me tell you my method.

Wait for a fine day, a day in which the heavens are appropriate to the plant of which Ovid has written:

...Illa suum, quamvis radice tenetur, Vertitur ad solem; mutataque servat amorem..

before you set off, rapture on your face, for Central Square. There, opposite the Cambridge Gas Company, you will find one of the six Nature Food Centres in Boston. And in this Nature Food Centre you will find shelled, unroasted, unsalted sunflower seeds for 79 cents a pound.

But resist the temptation to rush in, demand your sunflower seeds and exit. This is no seedy establishment, you will concede. Yeasts, soybean powders, raw sugars, dried fruits, honeys, extracts, gums; and syrups of all kinds will demand your attention. (On Cottage Grove Avenue near 63rd Street in Chicago, a "Hindu Incense" shop sells tonics of lion's blood and iron and 80 percent alcohol, powders to remove odors and demons, candles and incense and totems and icons.)

You will learn from the white-haired little lady, a straight four and a half feet tall, that sunflower seeds have more protein, ounce for ounce, than meat. She will not tell you that the ecstasy of eating sunflower seeds is no mere morning glory, but like the sun, flowers day by day.

When you get home, you will want carefully to roast the seeds on any metal tray, if necessary in the bottom of a tea pot. But even as you walk you may reflect that not for nothing is the hero of Spanish romance, the center of a thousand battles, legends and dramas, the perpetual inspiration to duty and right, that transcendent entity known as El Seed.

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