We’re continuing this section of the series on household basics, and I’m sharing my research on oil. I didn’t expect it would be a three-part section, but I did spend a lot of time researching and testing it, so you are joining me on this journey and getting the plan.
I’ve shared that we have a Piteba seed/bean/nut oil expeller press that we plan to use as our primary means for oil. I’ve ruled out GMO grains and also lard, though I might use some beef tallow but want to keep it to a minimum for health reasons. Tallow is very useful in the homestead, but we are looking for vegetable oils that we can produce.
Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
Furthermore, whatever we were going to grow for producing vegetable oil needs to be produced in our high elevation climate and harvested without fuel-dependent machinery, as fuel might be unavailable or eventually our supply exhausted. I did research about growing some of these options and concluded that black oil sunflowers to produce sunflower oil was the most attractive solution for us. My research from a variety of people who have grown these black oil sunflowers suggest that we can confidently grow these for making oil. As further reason for encouragement, I recall that when we purchased our property and moved here, there was a patch of sunflowers growing here. An article  I found details how to grow black oil sunflowers and suggests adding borax, a mineral, during the midsummer period to boost the size of the seed head. I will likely experiment with borax on some of the plants to see if this makes a difference, and if so what difference it makes. The garden spot is prepared, and as soon as the soil is warm enough the black oil sunflower seeds are going into the garden to be grown for the first/test year. My plan for harvesting is to cut the seed heads along the stem after the petals fall and when the seed head begins to look downward; we’ll put the seed heads in buckets or boxes where they can finish ripening before the seeds begin to fall. I don’t intend to lose many seeds in the garden to birds, and I believe that once the seed heads are dry we can simply shake them to release the seeds, wash them, let them dry, and store them for pressing into oil. There are plenty of other seeds in the garden for the birds in winter, and there will likely will be some sunflower seeds that fall but none intentionally. I have read that cheesecloth bags can be placed over the flower heads to catch any seeds as the flower heads dry, but that seems a little tedious to me. We’ll see if it is required or not.
Pressing Black Oil Sunflower Seed Oil
Though I have a plan for growing black oil sunflowers, before committing precious time, energy, and garden space to growing them, I wanted to be sure that we could successfully and satisfactorily press oil from their seed and enjoy that oil. So, using some of the seed I plan to plant, we ventured into using our Piteba oil press  for the very first time, ever. As a general rule, it’s not enough to have equipment if we don’t know how to use it and haven’t practiced with it. Let me say right up front that it was more of a challenge that I had hoped or expected. Yet, this is true of many homesteading activities that I have now mastered, or at least feel I can do proficiently, including gardening, flour milling, bread making, candle making, and more. In the beginning, many of these tasks were tedious and frustrating. We had the basic knowledge required initially; however, though, we had to eventually develop the feel for how these simple processes and machines, with their settings, best worked. Then, they became simple, really. I am confident now that we can express oil, but it did take several attempts and hours to get it to work properly and produce our bit of oil. In hindsight, our main failure was in not letting the press and seeds heat up long enough before pressing and then not cleaning everything out well enough when we started over once it heated up. After we started over from the beginning with everything cleaned out, let the press and initial seeds heat up well, cranked down the end cap all the way, learned not to hold back the press cake too much, and got our crank rhythm going, the oil began to dribble quite nicely. Sometimes the press cake would build up in the press and we would have to clean it out before continuing, but we managed to produce more than a half of a cup of oil from approximately four cups of sunflower seeds (though I cannot be sure of the measurement of seeds because we had a few spills in my fumbling around getting used to our cranking/seed adding team system). I’m not sure about the time it took, because we had so many re-starts, but I am sure that we accomplished the production of this oil in less than one hour, after getting the oil production started. It takes a good deal of effort to crank though! Unless we find a way to power it with a motor (solar, hydro, or wind), we won’t be producing oil by the half gallon to deep fry food during TEOTWAWKI ! Yet, we will have what is absolutely necessary for our basic cooking, hygiene, and household needs. We let the oil sit for a few days and then strained it through a coffee filter. It was thick enough that it took a good while to filter through, but it eventually came through looking quite similar to olive oil and tasting nice, too. Additionally, the chickens enjoyed the sunflower paste, after I added a little water. This was a bonus, since I really dislike waste.
Black oil sunflowers are not the same as those you buy at the store to snack on for yourself. For our testing, I purchased organic black oil sunflower seeds. These black oil sunflower seeds are very oily, with almost 50% more oil than those in our snack bags, and are what you most likely see in the bird feed mix you might buy. They truly are black and oily, living up to their name.
Pressing Raw Peanut Oil
We tested pressing hulled, raw peanuts to make peanut oil, too. We were able to do so, but it seemed to take more effort to produce peanut oil than with sunflower seeds. So, this effort combined with our inability to grow peanuts means that this is not a good option for us; however, peanuts may be a good option for you. We found that it was more challenging to feed the hulled, raw peanuts into our Piteba than the sunflower seeds. At times, the peanuts wedged together and got caught in the funnel instead of dropping into the Piteba press, requiring that I shake the funnel to allow a peanut to drop ahead of the other. Once, I had to shake so vigorously that I caused the funnel to release from the Piteba press and drop peanuts onto the floor. (I was not happy about my mess, but I chalked it up to learning.) The initial peanut oil was very murky and creamy looking, but after a few days it settled into a clear oil that closely resembled what we find at the grocery store. Also, I roasted the peanut press cake and fed that to the chickens, too. They gobbled them up. It smelled so good that I almost dug into it myself. I might look into uses for it. I was of thinking candy, maybe something like peanut brittle. Anyone have any experience using your peanut press cake for something tasty?
The peanut oil we pressed was later used for frying some of the best homemade oriental orange chicken we’ve ever had. Our peanut oil was a huge success. I’m glad I bought a good supply of raw peanuts so we can give this a whirl again, even if we can’t grow our own. (They are sure expensive though to have shipped!) It’s making me wish I knew of a way to grow them in our cold, high elevation.
Our Other Seed Oil Options and Storage
You might want to research some of the other seeds/beans/nuts that produce oils, listed at the Piteba website and consider your locale to see what best grows where you live and what is practical for you to harvest and utilize. Some seeds and beans and also oils cannot be stored for long, so you will need to take this into consideration. Sunflower seeds store well, but with the amount of energy required and currently doing it manually, we will likely press oil once every week or two for the amount that we need during this time frame. We’ll keep plenty of dry sunflower seed in storage in 5-gallon buckets  to prevent mice, birds, and other animals from raiding our supply. In this manner, we won’t have the concern of oil spoilage when there is no refrigeration. Pumpkin seed and even flax seed are both additional options for us to consider, but we have not pressed either as a test yet. It’s good to know we have options though!
I highly recommend the Piteba oil press and that you spend some time watching YouTube demonstrations and working with your own press. It’s my recommendation that, if you buy one, you also buy lamp oil  for heating your press and go ahead and get the Piteba spare parts  and spare expeller screws , because we know that two is one and one is none. These are the parts that are likely to wear out or break over time. Again, please get some practice in now so that it isn’t a foreign and frustrating learning curve during a stressful TEOTWAWKI scenario!
Ladies, the great news is that we won’t have to live with dry skin, frizzy hair, or squeaky doors. We won’t have to live without sauteed vegetables and salad or sandwich dressings and sauces in TEOTWAWKI either! We can have vegetable oil!
It just takes some planning, resources, and practice with these resources, like many other things. However, after going through this series, I’m feeling much more confident in thinking through some of the basics that aren’t common topics for TEOTWAWKI. Thanks for bearing with me on this pursuit! As always, I look forward to hearing from our SurvivalBlog community, too, on your ideas, resources, and experiences. It has been such a pleasure and a joy to hear from so many of you, and I thank you for your great contribution on the topics we’ve tackled these past few months.
I wish you well, until we meet again next week on SurvivalBlog!