watercressthumb.JPGAugust 30 2008 - We spent the day by the side of the River Meon near Soberton - at this point, the river is a fast-flowing, crystal-clear chalk stream.

The kids busied themselves with the catching of sticklebacks and minnows and the building of dams. I scouted around a bit and discovered large patches of watercress in the shallow margins.


What Is Watercress?

Nasturtium officinale - probably most familiar as the sprig of garnish accompanying a grilled steak - but this tasty plant has much more to offer. The young leaves and stems are crisp with a tangy, peppery flavour.


Picking Watercress

Although the stream looks very nice and clean, it runs through pastures in which livestock are kept - so there's always a possibility of pathogenic nasties lurking in the water or clinging to the plants.

For this reason, I decided to pick some to make watercress soup (recipe guidelines below) - where the heat of cooking should destroy anything harmful.

watercress3.JPGEven so, diligent washing in several changes of water was necessary - here's the water after the first rinse (and some of those specks in the bowl were moving under their own steam).

I kept on washing and rinsing until nothing more came out - I expect the leaves would at this point be pretty safe to eat raw, but I just wasn't going to chance it.

Watercress Soup

I could have picked up a pot of cream on the way home, I suppose, but after a day in the hot sun, I just wanted to get back to base and rest - so I made watercress soup thickened with potato and a roux of white flour and butter. Recipe below.

Served with crisp buttered toast and sprinkled with pepper and a little grated nutmeg, it was a highly satisfying meal at the end of a tiring day - tiring, because in truth, I built more of the dam than did the children. Also, I caught the most fish, shrimps and water bugs. Ha!


In The Kitchen

The supposed health benefits of eating watercress are widely and loudly touted - supposedly it's rich in iron, calcium and folic acid.

But who cares? It tastes really good - that's what I like most about it.


watercress5.JPGI picked a big bunch of watercress - just the tender tops.

I washed them very, very thoroughly, then I chopped a small onion and fried it gently in about an ounce of unsalted butter.

watercress6.JPGWhen they were cooked, but not starting to brown, I added a tablespoon or so of plain white flour to the pan and stirred it in to make a sort of roux (a cooked paste of flour and butter - except mine had chunks of onion in it).


I added about a pint and a half of chicken stock and brought it to a simmer, then added a few potatoes cut into very small cubes, so as to cook quickly.

watercress8.JPGWhen the potato was almost completely cooked, I added the watercress and simmered for about ten minutes - until the leaves were fully wilted and soft, but still bright green.

watercress9.JPGThen I pureed the whole lot with my hand blender. At this point, it was still a bit thick, so I added a little milk.

And that's it - the soup can be served immediately or cooled and reheated later - it should freeze quite well if too much is made.