As a child I was utterly fascinated by the idea that a plant could be grown on wet kitchen paper! I discovered that could happen when an old margarine pot, filled with damp kitchen paper partially covered with cress seeds, was placed on our back southeast facing kitchen windowsill. Within days the seeds had germinated and after a few days more we were eating cress.
Garden cress (Lepidium sativum) is a small edible herb which can be grown easily and quickly. The word “cress” comes from the Latin verb crescere which means “to grow fast”. Lepidium is the genus of cress, its taxonomic group within the Brassicaceae family which also classes watercress and mustard as members. Sativum means “having been cultivated” and comes from satum which means “a pasture”.
Owing to its slightly peppery flavour, peasants used to season some of their meals with cress because they couldn’t afford black or white pepper. Cress has been known variously as poor person’s pepper, pepper grass, pepperwort, garden pepper cress and Greek cress. Not only was it considered an inexpensive seasoning, but cress was believed by some to cure certain health complaints and to be beneficial for the brain. Personally, I just like its taste and texture. While not quite hard enough to be crispy or crunchy, it’s not soft enough to be soggy or smooth either, but has a moist robustness about it that yields the slightest of staccato hisses when you bite into it.
When I decided to start growing my own plants last springtime, my childhood memory of cress being grown inspired me and made me think that this would be the ideal way for me to begin. Since cress has been grown since the 1600’s why couldn’t I have a go? So I ordered a little packet of seeds and received them the following week in the post. I couldn’t wait to get started.
On March 14th I took a deep jar lid and lined it with circles of kitchen paper that I had cut to fit it. Then I poured enough water onto the circles to make them damp but not too much to drown the seeds which I sprinkled evenly onto the paper before leaving the lid on the windowsill. Each day, and probably several times a day, I checked my jar lid to see whether the seeds had germinated and could be proclaimed as promoted to seedlings. On March 18th I was pleased to see that a shoot had appeared. Some others followed but progress was slow. I was baffled because I was sure I remembered cress growing a lot faster than this when I was little.
Reluctantly, I decided to give up on that batch. There were two possible theories to explain its unwillingness buzzing around in my head. The seeds had arrived in a little re-sealable plastic bag and I wondered if that meant the seeds had been unsealed some time ago and subsequently stored in a larger container? Or could it be that, because I had been so captivated by the percussive sound of the seeds in their little bag and had felt the need to shake them repeatedly to record rhythms for creating a “drum loop” at a later date, I had damaged them? Whatever the reason, I left the jar lid on the windowsill for some time but acquired a new sealed paper packet of polycress (a lesser known quick growing variant), some of which I planted on March 28th.
This batch was much more successful. Brown seeds cracked open after only a few days, revealing tiny green tongues. Little white worm-like stalks gradually curled away from the brown shells, wriggling and stretching up towards the sunlight, spreading their leaves out. These seeds were so prolific that I was able to grow several batches in quick succession. Thought to have originated in the UK, garden cress is not only grown indoors on windowsills or outside in gardens, but also commercially in England, France, the Netherlands and Scandinavia – and here I was joining in the fun!
Said to be ideal in soups, cress is also a popular ingredient in salads and sandwiches. My favourite way of eating it is as an addition to a nice cheese sandwich. (I’ve always thought this would make a nice wrapping paper or tablecloth fabric or notebook cover design!)
Although the plant, effort and reward were small in the grand scheme of things, I loved sharing my cress and growing it proved to be a fun, tasty and encouraging way to start the journey of My Flowerpot Garden – not least because it led me towards the next part of my project. It was thyme, sorry time, to up the ante by trying to grow thyme, parsley and chives.