Of Watercress, Potato Salad, Grilled Cheese and Liver Flukes

As a kid we gathered watercress at the creek for sandwiches, mayonnaise, baloney and watercress on white bread. It was a sandwich a kid could make, one step up from peanut butter. We were Boy Scouts then, when a watercress, baloney and mayo sandwich counted as living off the land. Eating like Daniel Boone. In our mind’s eye we saw Daniel Boone and Colonel Crockett in buckskins and Kentucky rifles eating watercress sandwiches. The jar of Hellmann’s was just off-stage.

The thing about the watercress was how regularly we ate it. Our mom often sent us to the creek for watercress; watercress in Jell-O, in potato salad, turned in with scrambled eggs, with fried potatoes. The spring potato salad had watercress, new watercress with the boiled eggs and celery and olives as differentiate a good mid-continent American potato salad, as rose to sufficient with phenomenal status because of watercress.

We had watercress in grilled cheese, watercress in potato soup, watercress and bacon sandwiches, watercress with boiled potatoes and butter. A sore throat it was said was cured with watercress tea. Maybe cured isn’t the right word. Never mind a similar cure was affected by plain hot water, what kind of cure is hot water?

The watercress came from the creek where upstream our neighbors pastured their cows. We pastured our young stock in that same woods. This is what farmers did, turn their cows and heifers loose in the woods next to the creek so as not to pump water every day. Out of some empathy with the creek and its water quality our dad decided to favor the stream by installing a water tank in the back pasture combined with a sand point and jack pump. A thrice daily task then was to fill the stock tank with that jack pump. The pleasure of this erodes after five minutes, from then it’s just plain work that slips into slave labor soon after. From a kid’s point of view this is corporal punishment, or just another parent plot to kill off the kid.

If you ever want the true measure of how much water a milk cow drinks, pump that water by hand thrice a day times the number of cows in the herd. Eventually we bought a gasoline engine with a pump, the kind of engine you wound a rope around the far end of the crankshaft and after a series of winding and rewinding that rope, the engine successfully started. This where I learned the three rules of true prayer. Prayer for someone you love, prayer for knowing you will die, and prayer the engine will start. To understand good prayer is preceded by wisdom, of throttle and choke. To include a spark plug wrench to extract the plug to air it out after too much choke. Prayer commences after you tried all the fixes you know how to invoke. Fourth rule of prayer is don’t pray until you’ve tried to fix it yourself because any good and decent god of internal combustion won’t listen.

The thing about that watercress is we didn’t once doubt its food safety. Didn’t worry about E. coli or liver flukes, didn’t worry about the freshwater snails that adorned these waters. The snails being the critical role of the egg to larva trip of liver flukes.

Animals with liver flukes, which are by the way hermaphroditic, pass off eggs in their feces. About 50 percent of open pasture cattle are infected by liver flukes. When the eggs hatch the swimming larva seeks out fresh water snails to inhabit and later emerge as cysts on water plants in hope of being eaten by cows or alternatively foraging Boy Scouts.

Our mom never cooked watercress unless it was in potato soup. If the bacon and eggs was also cooked. Not the watercress in Jell-O, not the watercress in potato salad, not the watercress sandwich. We may or may not currently be hosts of Fasciola hepatica, it is possible to be infected and never know it, however if the flukes block your bile duct they will kill you. A renowned chef in South Africa died of liver fluke disease, a rare infection, but it is the rare stuff that makes newsprint worth reading.

I still love a watercress sandwich, as grilled cheese, in potato salad. The gimmick here is to soak the watercress in vinegar for 5-10 minutes beforehand or drop it momentarily in boiling water. The result isn’t quite the same crunchy texture but tastes the same, and you will sleep better knowing your bile duct won’t kill you on the off-chance.

Some mild April evening, collect a handful, the top growth is best, heat it or dip it in vinegar. Shred it small and turn into potato salad or layer on grilled cheese. It is said watercress is an aphrodisiac same as oysters, let me know your investigations. I do recall my parents went to bed early on Sunday nights, but what’s a kid know?

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