Watercress Festival

Watercress Festival, Alresford, Hampshire, Sunday 18 May 2014

Visit Alresford, the UK’s ‘Capital of Watercress’ on Sunday 18 May 2014 and you’ll be in for a foodie delight as the town plays host to the annual Watercress Festival with a variety of fantastic family attractions and plenty of mouth-watering watercress treats to tempt the tastebuds, ranging from watercress ice cream and cakes to watercress beer and soup.

The day kicks off at 10am with live music and a raft of artisanal food and craft stalls selling their wares, but at 10.30am Broad Street is brought to a standstill when the first watercress of the British season arrives, freshly cut from a nearby watercress farm and brought into Alresford on a traditional horse and cart. The newly crowned Watercress King and Queen ride on the cart and generously hand out this freshest of crop to festival goers, followed by a procession of morris dancers, musicians and school children, all in carnival mood as they parade through the town.

The fun-filled day will include the World Watercress Eating Championships, food stalls selling local artisanal produce, live music, street and children’s entertainment, and rides on the famous Watercress Line steam train, with much more still to be confirmed.

Cookery demonstrations by local award winning chefs, Andy MacKenzie of Lainston House, James Durrant, Chef Proprietor of the Plough Inn Longparish and  Robert Quehan, Head Chef of the Holiday Inn in Winchester, will take place, as well as a demo by internationally acclaimed food writer and author, Lucas Hollweg.  These experts will show just how versatile an ingredient watercress is, through a range of mouthwatering watercress recipes they have developed specifically for the Festival.

As Lucas says: “My only ambition is to make people go ‘yum’. Cooking is about feeding people and trying to make them happy.  If I can put something on the table that does that, something with a big heart, then I’ve succeeded.”  Come and watch how he does it!

Lucas and local MP, Steve Brine, a keen supporter of the watercress industry, will also be judging the Watercress Food Awards. Open to all Festival stall holders, eateries and food producers in Alresford these awards reward those who have developed something special and edible for the Festival featuring watercress. This year there are four categories: sausages and burgers, soups and sauces, sweet treats and most innovative. With a cash prize up for grabs for the first time, the organisers hope to be awash with some really unusual but tasty watercress treats! Click here for the entry form.

The principal sponsor of the Festival, the Watercress Alliance (made up of the UK’s leading watercress farmers Alresford Salads, Vitacress Salads and The Watercress Company) will have experts on hand to talk about the history, health benefits and the growing and harvesting of this ancient crop.  If you’d rather ‘go down on the farm’ and see for yourself how watercress is grown, however, you can sign up for a tour of Pinglestone Farm, one of the watercress farms within easy walking distance of Alresford. Places are limited though, so book in advance by contacting Jess Mason on 01264 732009.

For the kids, there’s the chance to investigate the 40 or more insect species which live in or by the watercress beds by pond dipping in the critter pool on the Alliance stand, while the more industrious amongst them can learn the old art of bunching watercress using traditional farm trollies.

The Watercress Festival is free to attend with the only charge being the car park in Alresford or at the Park and Ride in Ropley where visitors can start their day in old fashioned style by hopping on the Watercress Line steam train to the Festival. The event, which runs from 10am until 4pm is sponsored by Alresford Chamber of Commerce, New Alresford Town Council, The Watercress Alliance, Hampshire Farmers Market, The Co-operative, Charters Estate Agents and a host of community groups.

The Watercress Festival marks the start of National Watercress Week which runs from 18 May – 24 May 2014 and celebrates all things great about the little leaf with a big peppery bite, so what better way to spend your Sunday than with your family and friends in the ‘capital’ of watercress.