My ancestors lived in the foothills of the Great Smokies (Roaring Fork and Baskins Creek watersheds). Horace Kephart referred to them as highlanders, I prefer mountaineers, but most of the world simply called them hillbillies.
In the fall, they canned, pickled, sulfured, salted, dried, buried and squirreled away every bit of food they possibly could. It was important because it would be all they had to eat for months. There wasn't a supermarket down the street; not that it mattered since they had little money. Needless to say, they had to be self-reliant. Times were hard but they were even harder.
During the long cold winter, all they ate came from their stored larder. You have to imagine, they longed for the taste of anything fresh. At this time of the year, their yearning was such that they bundled up and went exploring. They were looking for something vibrant and green. They were looking for watercress.
As the name implies, watercress grows in water. It prefers slow-moving shallow limestone-based streams—something we have a lot of here in the valley.
On a recent damp walk through a local wetland—muddy, muddy, muddy—down Toll Creek looking for signs of beaver, the bright green of watercress glistened like a verdant beacon, a most welcomed sight, a sign of the coming spring; for my mountaineer ancestors, it would have meant something fresh for the supper table.