The perfect ingredient: Willowdene Farm watercress
James Wellock travels to Willowdene Watercress and Trout Farm in North Yorkshire to learn more about the perfect watercress.
Just beyond the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors is Willowdene Farm, owned and run by the Smith family, who have grown watercress and farmed trout in the area for decades. Willowdene watercress has a devoted following amongst leading Yorkshire chefs – so what makes this peppery product from Pickering so special?
“It’s special because it is grown traditionally,” says Eric Smith, owner of Willowdene Farm. “It’s allowed to grow in its own time – naturally. I think that’s the secret of the great taste and great leaves as well.”
Watercress is a semi-aquatic plant and grows naturally in running water, however large commercial farms now grow the product in vast artificial beds and increasingly in soil. At Willowdene, the watercress is grown traditionally in natural spring water that comes out of the ground at a constant temperature of 10℃ – meaning the watercress can be grown year-round.
Being in such an isolated rural area and in close proximity to a national park also adds to the fantastic freshness of this product. On the edge of the North Yorkshire Forest Park, Pickering has very clean air, is free from pollution and has high-quality soil so the watercress can grow as cleanly as possible. This pure environment makes for a pure product that’s packed with flavour and nutrients.
No chemicals or pesticides are used. Eric explains, “Occasionally if it looks slightly hungry we may give it give it a light dressing of fertiliser but mainly it gets its nutrients from the spring water – we have a very good supply of pure spring water.”
Watercress has more than 15 essential vitamins and minerals and is recognised as the original superfood. Its hot peppery flavour is a result of being a member of the mustard family – and it has long been a British delicacy as salads leaves, soups and sauces.