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29 April 2012

Tasty, versatile and healthy – we love watercress

Photo: © childsdesign

May sees watercress being celebrated with its very own ‘week’, the perfect time to explore this humble leafy plant. Experiment with it and don’t just leave it to languish as an undervalued salad garnish on the side of the plate.

Historically watercress is known to be a blood cleanser and more recently there have been suggestions that it could help to suppress certain cancers. Watercress does indeed contain lots of vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidant properties which are all good for our health. That said, it tastes so good and is versatile enough to be used in so many ways that it shouldn’t need to be bolstered by a healthy eating campaign to urge us eat it.

Watercress used to be a very important part of our culinary heritage, when during Victorian times it was sold on the streets of London and eaten by the bunch. Known then as the 'poor man's bread', as impoverished labourers could not lay their hands on bread but could get watercress. People would clutch posies, much like we'd hold an ice cream cone, biting off chunks of leaves.

The county of Hampshire has long been the main producer of Britain's watercress, the chalk landscape giving rise to mineral-rich water that feeds the watercress beds. There is a festival dedicated to watercress and this year it is being held on 20th May in Alresford.
In times gone by, the popularity of the leafy vegetable was so high that a railway line was specially built to carry the watercress to London ensuring it reached its destination as fresh as possible.
Probably less known are the Hertfordshire watercress beds. In fact there are some located near to The Artisan Food Trail's HQ at, Whitwell, near Hitchin.

It may be an acquired taste for some people, the peppery flavour can be quite strong and might be a shock to younger palates, but if used as an ingredient, the flavour can be tempered. If you love it just as it is, then freely stuff it into a sandwich and enjoy it raw and fresh.

Having such a robust almost mustard-like taste, it can be used very much as an ingredient, giving flavour as well as the crunchy juicy texture coming from the stalks.
Try it roughly chopped and stirred through mashed potatoes or it makes an interesting filling for an omlette along with some mushrooms and Stilton cheese.

We have rustled up two simple recipes in The AFT Kitchen which celebrate the boldness of British watercress:
Watercress Soup
'A Very British' Watercress Pesto

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