all cressed up

cel­e­brat­ing the Bri­tish wa­ter­cress sea­son

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - THE CUT - amy Bryant wa­ter­

When the Wa­ter­cress King and Queen beg in t heir pro­ces­sion down Broad street in al­res­ford, perched atop a horse-drawn cart and dis­pens­ing bun­dles of bright-green leaves to crowds of on­look­ers, the ar­rival of the UK’S first new-sea­son crop can be con­sid­ered well and truly( if a lit­tle ec­cen­tri­cally) cel­e­brated. the event, star­ring two gar­landed and gowned lo­cal school­child­ren, is a high­light of the hamp­shire town’s an­nual Wa­ter­cress Fes­ti­val, which will take place next sun­day.

since leaves were first nib­bled from chalk streams and ditches here cen­turies ago, the area has re­mained at the heart of the coun­try’s wa­ter­cress pro­duc­tion. as well as swathes of the wild stuff – which can still be found in crys­tal-clear rivers – acres of com­mer­cially grown cress beds are flushed with flow­ing, chalk-fil­tered water and har­vested daily through­out the sea­son. the leaves are then chilled and whisked off on lor­ries to the su­per­mar­kets. Visi­tors to the fes­ti­val, how­ever, may well ar­rive on the rail­way line that once shut­tled crops from hamp­shire to Lon­don. the Wa­ter­cress Line, com­pleted in 1865, en­sured that the per­ish­able stems could be picked one day and on sale in their wicker-bas­ket ‘flats’ in covent Gar­den early the next. It’s now a tourist at­trac­tion and will ferry fes­ti­val­go­ers to the cen­tre of al­res­ford to take part in the wa­ter­cress-eat­ing com­pe­ti­tion (where a Guin­ness World record is at stake), fol­low live cook­ery demon­stra­tions, and browse mar­kets stalls bear­ing sausages, gin and ice cream – all made with the pep­pery leaf.

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