Watercress: It may take the goodness out of milk but it makes an excellent purée
In season now, watercress is great eaten raw in a salad or blanched briefly and blended in to a soup
In folklore watercress was said to alleviate depression and increase a person’s intelligence
In folklore of the British Isles, watercress occupies an important place. In Ireland and Scotland, it was said that when used as a charm, watercress could take the goodness out of people’s milk. Considering milk was an important aspect of the Irish diet, drinking milk with goodness taken out (do we call this skim milk nowadays?) was a frightful position to find oneself in. But it wasn’t all bad. Watercress could alleviate depression and increase a person’s intelligence. In Cork at Little Christmas, water was turned into wine and watercress into silk!
As a food stuff, watercress appears in many mythological tales from The Cattle Raid of Cooley to Sweeney Astray. It seems Fionn MacCumhaill and his merry Fiánna subsisted on watercress as they pottered around Ireland in search of the mad and the magical.
Watercress, which is in season now, is great eaten raw in a salad or blanched briefly and blended in to a soup or broth. In the olden days (when I was young, according to my daughter), watercress was sold in the spring market in Dublin. This was done not only to purge the blood after the winter but also prevent scurvy. I would imagine it was the latter that was more important!
To make a simple watercress purée, take a large bunch of watercress and remove the large stalks. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and plunge the leaves into the water for 1 minute. Remove and refresh in ice water. Strain the water and blend the watercress with a few spoons of water to make a smooth purée. I like to add a little potato starch (you can get it in a health shop) to help the purée to come together.
Probably the most traditional manner of eating watercress in Ireland is with fish, namely smoked salmon or trout. I suppose the piquancy of the watercress marries well with the rich fatty texture and flavour of the smoked fish. When serving with trout you may want to include a little crème fraiche or fermented cream as the trout is leaner than the salmon.