Today Editor Dani and I visited the Alresford Watercress Festival. Alresford is a small town in Hampshire and it was recognised by the Romans as being the perfect place to grow watercress; a couple of millennia later it still is. As such, the locals have a large bash every year to celebrate this gratifying green grub.
Venerating a verdant victual? Long-time readers might wonder why the hell I am having anything to do with such things – I’ve warned you of the carcinogenic dangers of green growths so many times. Truth is, Alresford Watercress is really quite good for a plant. More importantly, it tastes wizard when served with meat. I’ll say more on this and the festival in general below.
Let’s deal with the vegetable itself first. Watercress we’ve all had in dreary restaurant salads is simply a wet green thing; that is precisely the kind of thing I hate. Alresford watercress has a compellingly crisp texture; there’s a satisfying quality to it when you bite. Unusually for a plant, it has flavour. Quite a lot of flavour, too, and it’s rather nice. Piquant and peppery with an edge of horseradish character to it. It enlivens food, which is why the Hampwich is such a brilliant construction.
I have to say, I’ve only had Alresford watercress quite close to the Town itself, and so I wonder how well it will travel and whether you, my dear and distant readers, will ever be able to sample its delights without coming to Hampshire. And you should come to Hampshire as there are so many good things here as the festival amply demonstrated.
We tried watercress in all manner of things; perhaps most memorably some watercress and wasabi fudge. Yes, that sounds weird, and I can honestly say it was, but I loved it. For the first 30 seconds after I tried it all I could articulate was, “Wow!” When I recovered my wit I was struck by it’s odd but winning combination of sweetness, bite, fire and life all tied up in a complex whole. The lady from the producers, Mummy Makes, seemed highly entertained by my confused enthusiasm for it.
Of course, watercress featured in much more. It is excellent blended in sausages and burgers, where its peppery bite enlivens the meat flavours. We’ve got some rather good watercress sausages that I am looking forward to having for breakfast, hopefully tomorrow morning. Of course, a lot of people serving food didn’t actually make watercress-containing food but just had some on offer to put in burgers, sandwiches, hotdogs and the like. It worked a treat in everything I tried it with.
A lot of the Hampshire Farmers’ Market regulars were at the festival. I was smitten by the smell of Greenfield’s hog roast at the first market I attended and this time we finally tried one. It was amazing! The pork was moist and juicy with incredibly rich and powerful flavours. I never really see the point of crackling but the pieces in this roll tasted fantastic and the feel in the mouth as I crunched them was spiffing. Needless to say there was a happy heap of watercress in our hog roast roll.
We finally got some produce from The Spanish Ham Master, who sells excellent Spanish pig products at various Hampshire events. We got two packets of head-end Lomo Iberico, which is fattier than normal Lomo Iberico, and ate them both within 15 minutes of getting home. Prime pig!
The excellent Woodlands Jersey Beef were there and we secured two sirloins to have with some asparagus we procured from the gentleman pictured. Lyburn Farmhouse Cheesemakers provided us with a kilo and a half of Lyburn Gold.
I’ve got a lot more time for polytheism these days and if there is a god of pies, he runs Manydown Farm Shop in Basingstoke. Why do I say this? Just look how much chicken packs this chicken and ham pie:
We’ve had beef and various chicken pies from Manydown and they’ve never been less than utterly crammed with exceedingly high-quality ingredients that have been prepared with skill. I find it hard to imagine a better pie than Manydown’s, but when I finally get to meet the person who prepares these marvels I’m going to suggest she makes a chicken and truffle pie. My mind boggles!
Naturally there were plenty of festival type jollies. They included the Watercress Queen who distributed watercress to her subjects:
Falconry demonstrations that included this rather massive Canadian horned owl:
There was a small collection of farm animals you could stroke. Or lick, I suppose, if you like your meat really rare:
Marching bands entertained us:
As did various flavours of Morris Dancers:
All attendees were kept from getting too excited by Alresford’s police force:
Just to be complete, I should say it is worth visiting Alresford at any time, not just when the festival is on. It’s very pretty with some good walks, has rude signs and the very highest qualified professionals:
The Alresford Watercress Festival was a good warm-up for the Hampshire Food Festival, of which I shall write more soon. We purchased a pile of quality produce with our arms straining. Oddly despite the incredible range of goods we got we didn’t actually pick up any fresh watercress…