Do you know you can raise a crop of salad greenery in the house? Further, it takes very little space and effort. The crop is cress -- or upland cress -- as compared with watercress, which requires water to grow.
I first became aware of upland, or garden, cress when traveling in England. There, in almost every inn and small hotel away from the big cities, peppery-tasting sprigs of greenery were used to garnish each plate at every meal. I also learned that this cress was not just decoration. Everybody ate it with relish.
After the delightful three weeks I left with a certain disappointment. I recall that it was quite a jolt on the flight home to be served with a towering bowl of pale, bland, coarse lettuce which we Americans call a salad.
I determined then I would learn how to grow my own cress.
With more information from some friends in England, plus several packets of seeds I bought over there, I set out. Because the season was late, an outdoor crop was out of the question. Even a window box would not have worked in my Minnesota climate. But I had been assured that it could be grown completely indoors and without any soil at all.
The directions told me to line a very large pan with a double layer of dampened Turkish toweling. Then I sprinkled the cress seed generously on top.It's as simple as that. While I had doubts, to be sure, I went ahead and covered the pan with paper and set the pan inside a room with normal temperature.
In three days there was a sign of sprouting. Now, uncovered, the pan was set in the light but not in the sun. I watched, fascinated, and saw that in another week the little crop showed signs of maturing. The garden catalog companies that call cress a 10-day crop are almost right.
Harvesting meant simply shearing it with a pair of scissors, leaving the bulbous spent seed on the toweling. Once the crop is cut you can rinse the toweling, to be used again. I keep several pans going in a rotating fashion.
I will say that it was a surprise to me to learn that cress also can be sprouted and matured on moist blotting paper.
When buying seed, you will see that the cress family comprises mustard cress and peppergrass. The names tell you the difference. Seeds are different, too, with mustard cress being larger and lighter brown in color. If you like zippy things, remember that peppergrass is more zingy.
If you wish, you also can grow the cresses in soil indoors. I have used for containers such things as the saucers from oversize clay flowerpots. Just fill the saucer with clean sand and top it with sifted soil. I have contrived green and growing centerpieces by planting the seed in an antique china tureen, thereby creating a dinner-table conversation piece.
For regular growing, use almost anything that will mold moist soil: large roasters, bread pans, and even milk cartons cut in half the long way.
Look for cress seed by these names: upland cress, curly cress, curled peppergrass, mustard cress, mustard white cress, and even triple curled cress. There is really little difference in them. Most catalogs list cress nowadays. Garden stores stock it. And those seed displays in supermarkets very often show it.
How to use your crop for eating? This delicate greenery is not meant to be cooked, except if you think you'd like to season with it. I'd recommend herbs instead for seasoning. (Of course, we herb growers do consider cress an herb as well.)
Use your crop as greenery. Chop it into cream cheese and other spreads. Add it to pate. Put it in sandwiches. Garnish cream soups. And, of course, adorn every dinner plate with it.
For a fresh zesty effect on the table, try cress.