Lizzie Crow is baking mad! You can normally find her in her kitchen in Upwey, Weymouth cooking just about anything and everything, with an emphasis on local, seasonal produce; which is where watercress comes in. As just such a local product and with history in the village of Upwey, Lizzie has always enjoyed using it in her recipes so the opportunity to be a Watercress Ambassador was just too good to turn down. Follow Lizzie’s culinary adventures with watercress here, and on her website, Lizzie Baking Bird.
My best ever memory of true baking success was when I was about 3 or 4 years old and I made fairy cakes with my long suffering mum. My dad came home from work and I was so excited…Dad took a bite and rolled on his back, arms and legs in the air, playing dead - I just KNEW he loved them!
These days you can typically find me at Dorset Farmers’ Markets, Food Festivals and other events sharing my wares. This time of year, however, I am often found in The Old Ship Inn in Upwey, not propping up the bar I’ll have you know, but in the kitchen cooking for the guests, or baking like a demon at home to prepare for my Open Day on Sunday 18 November. I’m holding this at The Old Ship and it’s a chance for people to sample my Christmas fayre, including this year Salmon & Watercress tarts, watercress bread and also puff pastry veggie tarts with watercress pesto - yum - I’ll share the recipes here soon!
Whenever I get a bag of beautiful peppery watercress, the first thing I do is split some bread, butter it thickly and ram in handfuls of watercress. Simple but delicious! You can imagine my delight when I received my first delivery of freshly harvested watercress from The Watercress Company, grown traditionally in flowing spring water! It was so incredibly fresh and bursting with nutrients and vitamins. Did you know that watercress used to be called Poor Man’s Bread because in Victorian England it grew wild in the rivers and was so healthy that the poor would eat it in handfuls or sell it in cones to be eaten on the go - the world’s first fast food!
Watercress has its own history in Upwey with commercial beds dating back to the late 1800’s. Although now not used the old bed walls can still be seen forming what is now the Island Garden Nursery . A grower called Jack Gee rented watercress beds at Island Gardens from Col Gould the estate owner. The beds were fed from spring water and source of these is the popular local tourist attraction The Wishing Well at Upwey.
5 Facts about The Wishing Well at Upwey
This is a natural spring dating from the ice age and which remains at a constant 10.5 celsius. It is the start of the River Wey which wends its way through Dorset before joining the sea at Weymouth
The waters are thought to have healing properties, especially in the healing of the eyes. Their reputation as health giving meant that George III would ‘take the waters’ at Upwey when he visited Weymouth
Since Victorian times it has been regarded as a wishing well when visitors would take a few sips of well water from a glass before throwing the rest backwards over their left shoulder while wishing.
The Wishing Well at Upwey is dressed each year at May Day. This tradition was exclusive to the Peak District of Derbyshire and debate surrounds its origins; either its roots lie in pagan tradition,or it began in thanks giving for the purity of the water drawn from certain wells during the Black Death. Well dressing began in Upwey in 1986 with the arrival of some ladies from Derbyshire who settled in the village, and today it is a popular and well established tradition
Anyway, enough of history! The second most regular thing I do with watercress is make a pesto.
Lizzie’s Recipe for Watercress Pesto
250ml olive oil
squeeze of lemon
salt & pepper
Put the olive oil into the bowl of a blender. Add the watercress, salt & pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Simply blitz for around one minute. If you like it softer, add more oil
This bright green and delicious pesto can be added to all sorts. It is, however, fantastic used in the same way as basil pesto; boil up a bowl of pasta and when cooked, stir in a tablespoon of pesto and then a handful of grated Parmesan, and finally add salt and pepper to taste.
Feel free to visit my website to find more recipe ideas or to find out where you can catch up with me in person.