Whatever happened to cress?

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Growing cress on the windowsill

I bought a Summer Salad collection of seeds at Poundland and among the little packets of basil, mint and thyme seeds was one for cress. My goodness, I’d almost forgotten that. No salad tea when we were growing up in the Fifties was complete until your Mum had snipped the cress out of its punnet.

A couple of leaves of limp lettuce or crisp Iceberg, half a tomato and a sprinkling of cress and that was your salad, usually eaten with a dollop of salad cream. And that was what we considered posh.

These days cress is regarded in the same light as paper doilies or knitted toilet roll covers: a bit too Hyacinth Bucket, a little too retro to be regarded as fit for the modern table. You hardly see it except in those old fashioned pub salads where they also include a slice of orange or in egg and cress finger sandwiches, crusts cut off, in dainty afternoon teas.

I must admit I have sniggered at the sight of cress in the past but that was just snobbery. Its pepperiness is not to be sneezed at. And with the current restaurant fashion for micro greens then land cress (Lepidium sativum), not to be confused with watercress, is the original.

I’d almost forgotten its pungency, halfway to that of a nasturtium leaf but even more if you have a punnet of mustard and cress, which livens things up on your tongue. So dimply remembering my old school lessons I found an empty margarine tub, filled it with damp kitchen roll, sprinkled on the seeds and put it in the kitchen window. Keeping it moist with a water spray I was rewarded after  a week with a crop of cress.

That was going to be lunch, in an egg mayonnaise and cress sandwich. You have to have the mayo, I can’t be doing with just egg and cress, you feel as if something’s missing, like not wearing your knickers. I quickly hard boiled and shelled a couple of eggs, mashed them up with salt, pepper and paprika, sprinkled over the cress and whipped in the mayonnaise, shop bought I’m afraid but the bread was home made. I am always a sucker for egg mayonnaise anyway and the cress gave the sandwiches just a little bit more oomph.

Apparently, and I didn’t know this, but some punnets of ‘cress’ or ‘growing salad’ are not actually mustard or cress but oilseed rape. I knew I had the real thing because I grew it myself from seed.

While cress is almost all water it also contains Vitamin C so if you eat it regularly you are unlikely to get scurvy.

I reckon cress needs a PR makeover. To put it bluntly, it isn’t remotely classy like rocket or even more upmarket leaves such as mizuna. But you can’t more British than an egg and cress sandwich, can you?

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My egg mayonnaise and cress sandwich, garnished with cress

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