During the time of this research, we have received interesting food stories from various participants. In this blog, we share one of those stories from Patrick Grover( who is 85 years old) about the Watercress.
I read with great interest the article about the Hitching Family Watercress Farm in Wiltshire. I worked on Watercress farms from 1946-1957 first when I was 15 at a Salad farm in Mitcham Surrey then on another farm near Whitchurch in Hampshire then as foreman on a watercress farm at another farm at Abbots Ann also in Hampshire.
I was 27 when my wife and I moved into a house on this farm. The Mitcham produced mostly English green watercress but at my farm we grew mostly autumn-winter watercress. The hardiest was ‘Brown’ which was a bronze colour and hardier than green. My wife and two other ladies worked in a ‘cellar’ of my house, bunching the boxes of loose cress. This bunching was done on ‘Piecework’ one old penny per I dozen bunches. A big lorry based at Mitcham came each day during the afternoon, to pick up our crop and took it back to Mitcham came each day during the afternoon to pick up our crop and took it back to Mitcham ready to go to Covent Garden market, the next morning.
Sometime in 1953 or 1954 my boss went to France for a holiday. He purchased a Kilo of a French type of Watercress seed; it was claimed to be bigger leaves and hardy and easy to grow. I had the job of growing this seed-it proved to be very good and soon replaced the brown type of watercress. In fact I never saw any more brown watercress after 1955 or 1956. During 2001 my wife and I on our 50th Wedding anniversary went down to the Eden project which was very good. On the way back, we decided to call in to see the Abbots Ann Farm. As we drew into the Yard, a young man came out of our old house. He came to find out what was the matter. I explained to him why we were there and he offered to give us a guided tour.
At first all looked the same, but lower down the area we came across 10 big - polytunnels over 10 yards by 50 yards watercress beds and stranger still, a river was missing! When I said’ Where is the river’, He did not know. What was I talking about, I found out that the river had been diverted and a bungalow factory had been built on the corner this little factory was the growing place. Compost was put in plastic trays with about 100 small modules; this went along the conveyor belt to the next station, where the modules were seeded.
Along further, and the module trays were watered and then each tray was taken off the belt and carted to the polytunnels-thousands of trays with 100 modules in each, millions of seeded modules. These were grown on until the plants in the modules were about 2-3 centimetres high, then they were loaded onto large Lorries, thousands trays to each lorry. These plants were taken to Portugal to be grown on. The climate in Portugal allows for a very much longer growing and harvesting season. The crop when ready is harvested by machine, washed and put into Vacuum sealed plastic bags then sent back to various supermarkets in this country and other countries. On the way back to my car, I asked if I could have a bunch of Watercress? ‘Certainly, but you will have to cut it yourself as none of us know how to cut a ‘hand of cress!!’ So I got out my penknife and cut a hand of watercress.