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Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Wartime No-Soil Windowsill Gardening

Back to the government-produced films from World War 2 about food and nutrition that I watched over the weekend . . .

Mrs. T. and family, breakfast which includes a dish of homegrown cress

I saw this in a couple of different films produced by the Ministry of Food in the British government. They recommended families grow cress in shallow dishes or plates on their kitchen windowsills in their homes and flats. I assume they were referring to garden cress and not watercress, as that was the only type of cress I could find info on for indoor growing without soil, as it appeared was done for these films. Here's one short film that momentarily mentions growing cress.

Mrs. T. and Her Cabbage Patch

Cress (both garden and water) are good sources of vitamin C, providing about 39% of an adults daily requirement (per of vitamin C in 1 cup of cress. As England's shipping was cut off from many of their food imports during the war, traditional vitamin C rich foods (citrus, especially) were unavailable on a regular basis. Anytime fruits like oranges could be gotten in Britain, they were restricted to use for children. Growing ones own cress at home, even when you didn't have a garden, gave families a source of vitamin C on a daily basis.

For today's household, I see two issues for growing cress on the windowsill: 1) inexpensive sources for a large quantity of cress seeds, and 2) cress is a cruciferous vegetable (cabbage family) which are associated with goitrogens, which for folks with thyroid issues, might be advised against consumption of this vegetable in its raw state. In regards to issue 1 (seed availability), at the bottom of the health line article, the author suggests watercress as an alternative to garden cress as a source of vitamin C. Watercress, however, is also a goitrogen. To note, cooking and fermenting cress or other cruciferous vegetables deactivates goitrogens. (Functional Nutrition

If you happen to have a source of either watercress or garden cress seeds, you can grow the cress on plates lined with damp paper toweling. Here's an article with instructions for growing cress indoors on a paper towel.

finished lentil sprouts, stored in a tea towel-lined plastic container in the fridge

For those of us without an ample and cheap supply of watercress or garden cress seeds for indoor growing, here's a budget-wise alternative for indoor growing, lentil sprouts. Lentil sprouts are not as high in vitamin C, with 14% of an adults daily requirement in 1 cup of sprouts. The awesome thing about growing lentil sprouts, though, is ordinary, grocery store bagged dry lentils can be used as the "seeds". If you're interested in trying to grow these sprouts, I detail how I do these in this post.

slaw type salad with lentil sprouts

How do I use the lentil sprouts? I add them to salads. I add them to sandwiches as I would lettuce of other fresh vegetable. I make a slaw type salad with them, using a mayo, vinegar, sugar, and salt dressing. 

lentil sprouts marinated for a couple of hours in bread and butter pickles juice leftover when a jar of pickles was finished

And I marinate them in leftover sweet pickle juice to eat as is -- make a great afternoon snack for me.

Anyway, I think the idea to grow cress on the windowsill was for even city dwellers to produce some of their own nutrient-dense, fresh food to ease the tight supplies across the country during the war.


  1. I could see how one could get hooked on these war films because they have so many interesting ideas and perspectives.

    I grew lentil sprouts after you posted about them before, and they were easy to do. However, no one seemed to like them, so I haven't done it again. I will say that I didn't prepare them in as many ways as you did, so if I had disguised them by pickling or something similar, maybe we would have liked them better.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      I'm glad you tried the lentil sprouts. Now you know they don't work for your family.

  2. I enjoyed watching the link you provided. I wish that the main public would see some of these solutions to the high grocery costs. It can be a simple solution, but people aren't programmed to think that way, I guess. Or we get lazy. My husband and I work in a church assignment with members of the church who need some type of assistance - food, rent assistance, etc. Our goal is to help make a budget that they can follow and eventually get self reliant. Last week I took a woman to the storehouse to get food - basic things, but she had a large order (for just 1 person). We filled two grocery carts with canned goods, fresh produce, frozen meat and chicken, bread, and dairy products. I saw her a couple of days ago and in our conversation, she mentioned that she had spent JUST $10 at Burger King for lunch. I said - you have a houseful of food! Ugh! It is such a hard thing to wrap my brain around, but it is a problem.

    This post also reminded me about a cookbook I read several years ago about a family who had maybe 7 or 8 children and they had a meager income. They also didn't have health insurance because of the high cost, so it was very important to her that they eat healthy. One thing she did was sprout wheat and then she dehydrated it and ground it up in a blender. Then she used that to put in her homemade bread. I need to research that but she claimed that her vigilance with healthy food kept her family's medical costs at a minimum. Have you ever heard of dehydrating wheat sprouts?

    1. Hi Ruthie,
      That must've been frustrating to have worked hard with this woman and she missed part of the lesson. But perhaps you have helped her along her way and she will soon "get it."

      The cookbook you mentioned -- sprouting the wheat, frying it, then grinding in the blender is brilliant! I have heard of sprouted wheat added to bread, but I thought it was added as a whole sprout, which would become hard and dry on the crust of the bread. I have wanted to sprout wheat for a while. It's supposed to make wheat more digestible and add nutrients. When I get down to WinCo again, I plan on buying wheat berries. now I know how to handle the sprouting, drying, and grinding. Thank you for relating this info, Ruthie! And I agree with the writer's idea to feed her family well to minimize the need for medical intervention.

  3. I love, love reading your posts. You continue to amaze and inspire me to live a frugal life, Thank you so very much!

    1. Hi Farhana,
      Thank you so much for your kind words. Have a wonderful evening!


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