Watercress Soup (with Pea Variation)
Watercress season starts in May
Happy birthday watercress! Yes, 2008 sees the bi-centenary of the first commercial watercress farm in Britain. And where would that have been? In Kent of course. Northfleet to be precise. It is said that, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, located his hospital in Cos beside a watercress bed as he realised how it could benefit his patients. This must have been a bit of a kick in the teeth for the lettuce! Greek soldiers were made to eat it to increase their vigour. Roman emperors said it enabled them to make “bold decisions”. I can vouch for that. I ate it and decided to write this.
Attempts at commercial cultivation were reported in the 16th century at Erfurt in Germany. Following that it was introduced into France, where Napoleon himself was a huge enthusiast. The first British Watercress farm was opened in 1808 by William Bradbury at Springhead in Northfleet.
During the Victorian period the development of the railway allowed easier distribution of watercress. Formed into bunches, it was sold by Costermongers and eaten like an ice cream cone. Because of its amazing nutritional content (ounce for ounce, watercress contains more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach and more folate than bananas) it is not surprising that, in the 1930s, the Ministry of Health made it a staple ingredient in school dinners.
With the introduction of more varieties of salad leaves being grown and imported, watercress rather went out of favour. However, it has been rediscovered as one of the newly christened “super-foods” and is now back on our tables and the menus of restaurants. National Watercress Week, which marks the start of the British watercress season starts on Sunday 11th May 2008. Why not celebrate it with this traditional watercress soup recipe.
|1 tbsp (15ml) olive oil
||9oz (250g) watercress
|1 small onion, chopped
||¼ pt (150ml) milk
|1 small stick celery
||pinch of nutmeg
|12 oz (350g) potato, peeled and diced
||squeeze of lemon juice
|1 pt (600ml) vegetable stock
||salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and celery and sauté over a medium heat for 5 mins until pale golden.
- Stir in the potato and stock and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 10 mins or until the potato is tender.
- Stir in the watercress, cover and cook for a further 5 mins or until the watercress is wilted.
- Transfer the soup to a food processor and blitz until smooth.
- Return the soup to the rinsed out pan add the milk, nutmeg, lemon juice and seasoning to taste.
- Gently reheat until piping hot and serve with crusty bread.
For a very tasty and easy variation to this soup leave out the celery, nutmeg and lemon juice and substitute the potato for 14oz (400g) of frozen peas. Serve with a sprig of mint.