Watercress Festival, Alresford, Hampshire, Sunday 19 May 2013
Local rugby player Glenn Walsh proved that watercress really is a ‘super food for a super you’ when he was crowned the World Watercress Eating Champion 2013 after munching his way through two bags of watercress in just 35 seconds, 15 seconds faster than the Guinness Book of Records’ title holder.
This was just one of the highlights at the annual Watercress Festival on Sunday 19 May when 12,000 foodies took advantage of the unexpected sunshine to descend on Alresford in Hampshire, the UK’s ‘capital of watercress’ to celebrate National Watercress Week and the start of the UK season.
The day began with a grand cavalcade of Morris Men, street entertainers, musicians, local schoolchildren and the King and Queen of Watercress , Aidan Morgan (6) and Kiera Mason (7) sitting atop a horse and cart, to bring the first of the season’s crop into town.
Another star attraction was 21-year-old Reading University Food Science student Lydia England who made her stage debut, cooking up a Watercress and Goat’s Cheese Tart with Walnut Pastry, after being crowned The Great British Watercress Cook-Off Champion, a title which came with a tasty £2,000 cash prize. During her demonstration Lydia explained how Dr Steve Rothwell, a local watercress farmer, inspired her to cook with watercress following a talk he gave at Reading University in which he discussed the amazing health properties of the peppery superfood.
Diana Henry, food writer for the Sunday Telegraph and recently named ‘Food Writer of the Year’ at the Fortnum and Mason Food Awards, presented this year’s Watercress Food Awards.
The winner of the Most Innovative Watercress Product, which also won the title of the Best Overall Product, was ‘Watercress and Toasted Cashew Pesto’ made by Artisan pop up Pizza restaurant, ‘Pizza on the Hoof’, which is currently based in the South West but which will return home to Italy in the Autumn. Diana and her fellow judges, Samantha Lyster, deputy editor of Fresh Produce Journal, and Charles Barter, of the Watercress Alliance, felt this product deserved to win as it had beautiful colour with a fresh, watercress flavour and a good balance of watercress and cheese.
Watkins and Faux, part of Hampshire’s Farmers’ Market, won the Best Traditional Watercress Product for their Watercress and Stilton Quiche. Diana said: ‘Making quiche is hard, particularly to get the watercress flavour through in one that has cheese, but Watkins and Faux managed it well.’
Finally, new to this year’s Food Awards was the Best Retail Product with Waitrose Smoked Salmon and Watercress Tartlet scooping top prize.
The cookery demo unit was a non-stop foodie attraction, kicking off with food writer Rosemary Moon as she cooked three delicious recipes using watercress. Two teachers, Catherine Watson from Sunhill Infant School and Emma Reeve from Sunhill Junior School battled it out in the ‘Battle of the Pans’ competition. Both teachers had to produce an exciting (not forgetting tasty) dish using a bag of mystery ingredients, one of course being watercress. It ended in a dead heat with Catherine producing pan fried local trout with homemade watercress and tomato salsa and Emma making chicken breast with watercress and cashew nut stir-fry.
British watercress farmers were thrilled with the turnout (and the weather!) and said it was a super day for a superfood with even more people attending than last year. The event is organised by the Festival Committee made up of many groups in Alresford with support from the Alresford Town Council and principal sponsor The Watercress Alliance (made up of Alresford Salads, Vitacress Salads and The Watercress Company).