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Another Successful Watercress Festival Heralds the Start of a Bumper Season for Watercress Growers

The British watercress season got off to a flying start with record crowds attending this years Annual Watercress Festival on Sunday (May 15). For the eighth year the small market town of Alresford and capital of the Watercress world hosted the festival to celebrate the start of the new watercress season which runs from May to October. Sales of the quintessential English crop have already been boosted by the current hot spell with an increase of more than 30% on last year but with the new season now officially underway, and more hot weather forecast watercress sales are expected to be well up on last year.

Charles Barter, of the Watercress Alliance, the main sponsor of the Festival said:It was a tremendously successful day, attracting a record breaking crowd of up to15,000 compared to last years 12,000. The Festival is a fantastic event thats now highly recognised in the food calendar it just seems to get bigger and better every year.

Wendy Akers, of Mustard Communications, who developed the Watercress Festival concept said: Watercress has successfully tapped into the consumers interest in provenance and buying British but it is also recognised as one of the healthiest crops you can eat. The Festival is a great way for people to see how and where much of this countrys watercress is grown and to celebrate one of the UKs greatest crops.

The highlight for many was the annual contest to find the World Watercress Eating Champion, which this year attracted 18 entrants, with five of those being last minute entries. After a series of heats, the final victor was Rajesh Peter who has lived in Alresford for a year and a half but who was originally from India. The housekeeper and chef for Meon Valley MP, George Hollingbery, managed to consume two 80g bags of watercress in just 59.20 seconds. He failed, however, to break the record set at last years festival by local builder Sam Batho, of 49.62 seconds. Sam was unable to defend his title as he is currently on honeymoon in Mauritius and his new wife refused to delay their trip!

Rajesh was a late entry who had not planned to enter the competition but on seeing how fun it all looked plucked up the courage to put his name down. He said that he loves the Festival and English people and enjoyed the atmosphere of the crowd. Although a chef , Rajesh admitted that he hadnt really eaten much watercress before but that now he has been initiated into the unique taste he will use it more in his recipes!

The competition was one of the highlights of the day, but there were many other activities on offer. A series of cookery demonstrations were held not least by TV celebrity and food writer, Sophie Grigson who had developed some delicious recipes especially for the festival, naturally featuring watercress. The spectacular festival cavalcade, which was led by the King and Queen of Watercress brought the first watercress of the season into the town while Hampshire Farmers Market showcased the best of local produce with other local companies highlighting the versatility of the crop.

Sophie Grigson also presented this years Watercress Festival Food Awards. These recognise the innovative way producers are working to include watercress in their recipes and products.

Winners on the day included The Courtyard Tea Rooms in Alresford who scooped the prize for the Most Innovative Watercress Product with their savoury choux pastry filled with watercress and cream cheese.

Sole Butchers, Alresfords local family butcher, was awarded the Best Traditional Watercress Product prize for their delicious watercress and beer sausages.

And the winner of the Best Overall Product was Bowtells Farm Shop with their mouth-watering watercress soup. Bowtells source all their ingredients for their products from within a 10 mile radius of Alresford.

The event is organised by New Alresford Town Council, The Watercress Alliance (made up of Alresford Salads, Vitacress Salads and The Watercress Company), Alresford Chamber of Commerce, The Hampshire Farmers Markets, independent specialist shops and a host of other community groups

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