Sunday, 23 June 2024

(Pantone 17-0220)

Watercress is not cress. Cress, as garden cress tends to be known, is a mainstay in the most tokenistic of side salads. Watercress is not. I am holding some right now. The leaves are bigger, darker and more substantial. They’re shiny, like the corner of a pond around six in the evening, or army-surplus jumper shoulder pads. The stalks are flanked by white, hairy roots. When I cut the wire tie holding the bunch together, the agglomeration triples in size and complexity, spilling from my hands, resisting all attempts to “trim the roots.” What the hell? My surface is in chaos.

“Your mum and dad sure made a mess,” sings Iggy Pop in ‘I Snub You’ (1980). “You’re going to look like watercress.” Watercress is not only a culinary artefact but also a cultural one. Take a walk through the wealthy Normandy town of Veules-les-Roses and there is watercress growing in the river by the high street; go there at Easter and it’s a whole fête du cresson, a watercress party. These have a habit of erupting in watercress towns; of particular note is the Alresford Watercress Festival in England, which features a “watercress eating championship,” whatever that is, and can be travelled to via a railway called the Watercress Line.

I have been cooking an onion and two potatoes in some stock and they are now tender. I stuff the great tangle of watercress into the saucepan, wait a few minutes, then blitz. I add nutmeg, milk and the juice of a lemon. It’s a soup my guests will think is more sophisticated than it is thanks to the interplay between the sharpness of the watercress and the acidity of the lemon.

Containing much in the way of vitamins, antioxidants, magnesium, calcium, iron and fibre, watercress is, among other things, good for the skin and the immune system: I am lengthening my guests’ lives (good for them); I am improving their faces (good for me). A study by William Paterson University gave watercress a nutrient density score of 100/100, making it the ultimate in what they call “powerhouse vegetables.” Chinese cabbage was in second place and chard came in third, so you know. The top fruit was the aforementioned lemon.

After attending New York Fashion Week last year, Pantone released a statement saying the hottest colours for spring 2024 would be ones which are “infused with a hint of nostalgia yet at the same time speak to transformation as we embrace a more positive way of living.” The Pantone system assigns six-digit codes to ultra-specific shades, and among those it divined as being essential to this season’s fashion landscape is 17-0220, also known as “watercress.” The report characterises 17-0220 as “a refreshing peppery green with a sprightly presence.” This describes the food’s flavour as well.

From Fantastic Man n° 38 — 2024