Sunday, 9 August 2015

Fictional Food Adventure: Making Cress Sandwiches from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

You would think that growing a little bit of Cress wouldn't present too much of a problem, would you? I mean, small children produce great results with apparent ease, don't they? 

So Andy and I excitedly "planted" our cress seeds with high hopes and not a single worry. We watered it regularly and made sure the kitchen roll was always moist. The seeds germinated beautifully but then seemed to become unhappy. We don't know what went wrong, but we started again. 

The next lot grew happily and quickly, but I had obviously sewn them too liberally, as about half germinated first and the second half were only half-grown when the first half were tall enough to cut. I held off cutting it though, as I didn't want to cut into the shorter half before they were tall enough. I hoped they would catch up, but it all then seemed to get top heavy and kept floppping over, despite my valiant efforts to help it. In the end I did another trayful, which germinated happily but seemed to sparse to support itself. 

I think now, although I am still a sucker for the germination of seeds and the growth of young shoots, I have spent long enough devoting my time to checking on cress. I know for a fact that our local green grocer sells it in little boxes for less money than my pack of seeds and it's all the same height, and it all stands upright. Surely, growing cress should be a walk in the park?

I've never eaten a Cress Sandwich, but it does sound wonderfully fresh and crisp. Yet, out of all the snacks listed in that first river picnic with Ratty and Mole, and all the subsequent picnics, luncheons and suppers, there was one thing that sounded even more enticing. Mulled Ale on a cold December night. Not being a drinker of alcohol, I don't know why this took my fancy so much, but Ale sounds like such a nice, earthy, wholesome thing that I wish I liked it. Maybe with spices it could become something really special. Maybe come the winter it's worth a try. But for now, Cress Sandwiches are on the menu and we need some cress!

In true Mole and Ratty fashion, I felt these Cress Sandwiches needed to be eaten by the river, but every time we planned to go, something would crop up. Yet, after horrible summer colds and chilly July rainstorms, we finally got to our favourite stretch of riverbank, one clear blue Saturday in early August. 

Hoping this would be the case, I had stocked up on fresh white bread and a tub of cress the day before, on my weekly Friday high street shop-up.  On Saturday morning, Andy baked a tray of sausages and I boiled some eggs. We packed up a big flask of tea and the last of our homemade raspberry cordial, and with our fishing nets, wading shoes, jam jars and rugs, we headed off to Oak Beach. This is a wonderful part of the River Culm, close to my parents house. Everyone else is always passing straight by, walking dogs and not even stopping to admire the view. 

But we linger, under the shade of a wide-spreading oak, paddling, swimming, fishing, picnicking, snoozing, exploring and soaking up the essence of a quiet little English river. A Dipper alighted on a nearby branch, huge striped Hawker Dragonflies zoomed over the water, tiny, exquisite minnows darted through the sunlit shallows while larger ones cruised through the darker, shaded depths further out in the middle of the river. Water gurgled under an overhanging Alder, over a bed of rocks, and flowed smoothly round the bend into the dark pool that I love to swim in. 

Almost as soon as we had laid down our rug, Andy asked if it was too soon to start eating. Of course, there are no set times with picnics. The food is there and so are you, so you can eat when you're hungry. I chomped at a cold sausage while cooling my ankles in the shallows, while Andy brewed tea. Then we nestled ourselves into the rugs and enjoyed our first ever Cress sandwiches. They were generously spread with butter, and sprinkled with salt and pepper. And, out in the fresh air, surrounded by trees and grass and water, a little something green and crunchy was ever so welcome. We both enjoyed them, but I did pack some ham to add in if we both felt that it was needed. Afterwards we realised we could have sliced out egg in with it but it wasn't really needed. 

What could be nicer than a picnic by the river? If you ask Mole or Ratty, or me, not a lot. 

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