Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Watercress, and Cream of Watercress Soup

Photos taken in February; they are much more green and lush now, but my camera is having problems!.

I have an abundance of edible watercress growing in my spring's shallow overflow pond. The overflow culvert has carried more watercress down to the creek where it also flourishes in the shallow edges, but I'm not inclined to pick watercress to eat from there because I don't know what pollutants are in the creek. I probably don't want to know!

Watercress is a prolific "weed", but mustard cress, shepherd’s purse and wild turnip are also prolific, easily collected, and more valuable than appreciated. Watercress is a good source of all the major plant nutrients and most of the minor ones, but its chief value is as a source of phosphorus.

My old-timer neighbor has pointed out a tiny crustacean living in my overflow pond, saying they will not live in polluted water so it's an indication the water is pure... and that many years ago the creek itself was once chock-full of them. I should ask him the name and write it down before I forget again (and/or he dies). Maybe even take a photo for posterity. We are losing so much common knowledge that earlier generations held!

At any rate, I have no qualms about eating watercress from the overflow pond. I just hate putting on my waterproof boots and getting in there to harvest some because the pond is so doggone cold, summer or winter... even though it's less than a foot deep! (I ended up standing on the culvert pipe and pulling in the watercress with a rake.)

Have you ever made cream of watercress soup (Potage Cressonniere)? I have only made it once before, many years before I moved here, because watercress isn't available much in many grocery stores. (Fresh watercress is delicate and does not keep well.) But I have to say the soup was outstanding!

My recipe is from my much-used (and abused!) New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne (1961, although mine is a reprint I bought in the early 1970's before more than 40% of the recipes were altered or replaced).

Cream of Watercress Soup
1/4 cup butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups chopped onions
1 quart thin-sliced potatoes
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup water
1 bunch watercress
1-1/2 cups milk
1-1/2 cups water
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup light cream

Heat the butter in a large saucepan. Add the garlic and onions and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, seasonings and 3/4 cup of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes or until the potatoes are almost tender.

Cut the watercress stems into 1/8 inch lengths. Coarsely chop the leaves.

Add the watercress stems and half the leaves to the potato mixture, along with the milk and water. Cook 15 minutes. Purée in a blender or press through a food mill. Return to the saucepan and reheat.

Blend together the egg yolks and cream. Gradually stir this mixture into the soup and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Garnish with a few watercress leaves, and serve immediately.

This recipe above is quite different than the one by Julia Child, but since I have never made hers, I cannot compare them. Julia uses leeks rather than onions, no egg yolks, milk or light cream, but does use some heavy (whipping) cream. I suspect I'd like it as well!

Update: I did ask my neighbor about the tiny snails... they are fresh water periwinkles! Also, I did make the soup too, but my camera is on the fritz so no photos. Sorry.


  1. That sounds yummy!! Aren't periwinkles some kind of mollusk or am I confused? I think they are good to eat as well. I remember picking them up along a lake in Nova Scotia once upon a time. :0)

    1. Yes, these freshwater periwinkles are a tiny mollusk. They live in my spring overflow, but no longer in the creek itself. There used to be large edible freshwater mussels in this creek too, but pollutants wiped them out.

  2. I'll save a sprig for a garnish. Sounds delicious.


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