A farmer guides a horse-drawn cart, laden with watercress, through the crowds. On the back of the cart, a boy and girl, dressed in emerald green, throw handfuls of watercress into the air. A procession of musicians, morris dancers, and children prance after them. This, the opening of the 2012 Watercress Festival in Alresford, Hampshire, is a quintessentially English scene: redolent with tradition on the one hand, and a little bit silly on the other.
Modern-day Britain is throbbing with festivals of this sort. Each brings out the very best in regional produce, traditions, and tomfoolery (the watercress speed-eating championships, for instance, of which more later).
The streets of Alresford are filled with stalls, jugglers, and outdoor cooks. Morris men drink ale on the kerbs, and bewildered-looking donkeys are manhandled by toddlers. But tucked away in the old mill beside the railway station, something serious is afoot. Welcome to the Cook Academy, Hampshire’s leading cookery school.
“It’s a big day for us,” says Kate Hughes, who founded the Cook Academy in 2005. “The Watercress Food Awards are the heart of the festival.”
Steve Brine, the local MP, is judging the traditional soup category. Looking slightly incongruous, as politicians in aprons always do, he surveys the 67 glasses of green liquid.
“Festivals like this are great for the local economy,” he says. “We have this natural resource of watercress, and people are making the most of it. Look at all these wonderful creations.” He tastes a soup and winces. “Though that one’s a bit foul.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website