Monday, April 25, 2011

Harvesting Watercress

If you are a Featherstone Farm CSA member, you are lucky to receive some of the best produce that SE Minnesota's fields can offer.  But the cuisine of SE Minnesota comes from more than fields - we can enjoy the bounty of streams and forests, too.   We can hunt for wild watercress on a sunny day in April.
Here I am, admiring a perky damp little bunch of watercress

April can be a challenging month if you are trying to eat fresh and local.  By now we have mostly used up the odds and ends of frozen and canned foods that we managed to put away last summer and fall.  Gone is the asparagus, tomato juice and raspberries.  Even the frozen rhubarb is no more.  We still have a good supply of venison, refrigerator pickles, dried beans, polenta corn, some over the hill shallots, one black radish (in great shape) and a few parsnips.

So it is very exciting when the first foods of spring start to appear.  One of them is watercress, which grows wild in or near many of the creeks and streams in the area surrounding Featherstone Farm.  Yesterday Frank and I set out for one of our favorite spots on Gribben Creek to gather some.  (Just off Fillmore County Road 23, about 3 miles south of state highway 16 - a public access fishing spot.)  If you go, bring along some garbage bags.  I am sorry we did not.   It is a lovely spot, but unfortunately a few folks have not cleaned up after themselves.  So annoying.  Shocking, really.

If you would like to see me harvest and eat some watercress in the Gribben valley - go here for a short video:

Here is what the watercress looked like once I got it home and cleaned it up.

Watercress (nasturtium officianale) is a member of the mustard family.  It has a sharp peppery or spicy taste and crisp texture that adds zing when added raw to salads or sandwiches.  It is full of iron and can sometimes be found in the produce section of grocery stores or farmers markets if you do not want to make an expedition to a cold, clear and slow moving stream.

Watercress recipes
Watercress is not just for garnishes anymore.  It is a beautiful green and can be used both raw and cooked.

Here are instructions on how to make a watercress sandwich, right from The London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea.
Butter rough rye bread with salty butter and pile a slice high with fresh watercress.  Press another slice on top until the contents creak.  Cut the sandwich in half but not quarters...the dark green leaves burst out at the seams.

Watercress and potato soup - about 4 servings
Saute 1/2 cup of chopped onion or leeks in 2 T. butter until soft.  Add 6 cups peeled and chopped potatoes.   Add 2 cups water or broth and simmer until potatoes are soft and falling apart.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add two cups chopped fresh watercress and simmer a few minutes.  Thin to desired consistency with milk or additional broth.
This is basically a simple version of potage cressioniere - a rich soup made with onions, garlic, potatoes and "a bunch" whatever that means of watercress - enriched with cream and egg yolk.  

Watercress salad
Wash and pick over watercress - about 1 cup per serving.   Thinly slice some apple - about 1/2 medium apple per serving.  Add some feta cheese and toasted walnuts to taste.  A few chopped green onions if you have some.   Toss with dressing made with equal parts mayonnaise and yogurt and a squeeze or two of lemon juice. 

Watercress biscuits
Chop about a cup of watercress and add to your favorite biscuit recipe (for about 12 biscuits) just before rolling and cutting.  

Watercress and cream of chicken soup
I checked my vintage edition of the Farm Journal cookbook to say what they might have to say about watercress.  The one watercress recipe in the book suggested adding chopped watercress (1/2 cup - no more, no less) to cream of chicken soup made from a can.  I am not generally a fan of canned commercial soups - but hey, adding watercress is a good idea.  I personally would add a cup.  Midwestern fusion cooking.


  1. Isn't it great picking stuff in the wild. We have a "weed" in the UK called hairy bitter cress; it tastes exactly like watercress, grows everywhere and no one ever uses it! Shame.

  2. I truly wish I could trust and use the foliage around my house, but I live in St. Paul and who knows what people have been spraying and where. Someday I'd love to forage with a knowledgeable person and have a big feast!

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