My friend Cindy Kane invited me over for lunch. She was going to make watercress soup and wanted to make sure I’d brought my boots because first we had to go foraging, get a bit wet and muddy and then go back to her kitchen to cook.
We go to an undisclosed location on Martha’s Vineyard, Cindy hands me a canvas tote and a pair scissors, and I follow her long strides, to a bend in the path where she gets right to it. This is one best years she's seen here for watercress.
Watercress is one those plants that to me is both hearty and delicate. It thrives in cold, shallow moving water. I crave it especially after a long, dark winter. It’s lush and alive. It has that arugula kind of bitterness.
Cindy goes foraging once a week if the watercress is abundant and she fills her tote about ¾ full. She’s careful to take only what she’ll eat.
We found the spot: It’s calm by the stream. It’s green, mossy, birds are everywhere and the water where the watercress grows – it looks so clean.
Once we’re back in her kitchen in Vineyard Haven, Cindy runs to the sink washes all the watercress right away when we get in. She’ll store what she doesn’t use for lunch in plastic bags in the fridge where it’ll keep for the week.
Her usual go-to with watercress is to cook it fast and hot in a big stainless pan, like a wok.
She explains how she does it, “I sauté it with garlic. Like in China Town. You know in China Town you get a big plate of watercress with tons of garlic and oil you know, circling the plate, that’s how I like it.”
There’s an honor-among-foragers when someone takes you to their secret spot. It’s an understanding that you won’t go telling the world about where it is (or announce it on social media) and you harvest responsibly. It also means you’ll probably learn new ways to cook what you collect beyond those dainty little watercress white bread tea sandwiches with the crusts cut off. I never did get those. When Cindy brought along another friend to her secret spot, she ended up discovering a new recipe.
Her friend was so impressed and appreciated being able to pick her own food. She took a whole bunch home, and told Cindy that she made a watercress volute, a soup.
I’ve been blending watercress that I forage into plain yogurt and chilled green tea for a light, fresh smoothie. It’s also a good on BLTs instead of lettuce. I finely chopped it and fold it into soft scrambled eggs with some goat cheese and garlic.
To make the soup, Cindy chops up the watercress and then adds bunches of it to shallots simmering in the pot, adding salt and pepper along the way to taste.
Once it’s wilted she adds peeled and chopped russet potatoes and some stock. Cindy brings it all to a boil, then reduces it to cook until the potatoes are knife-tender. Then, it’s blended in the stockpot with an immersion blender.
I watched her make the soup, and asked her how she liked it.
“It’s good,” she said, “Yeah, okay now I’m going to cut some chives from the garden and sprinkle that in, it gets it an edge that I think it needs.”
While Cindy is in her garden getting the chives, I think about something she said when we were out by the stream…that when things feel overwhelming for her, it’s the simple pleasures that’ll make her feel better. Like being in a watercress patch, and feeding her family and friends. It’s nourishing. And sometimes that’s just all you need.
“Whenever I come home from a trip,” said Cindy, “I love to just stand here and chop stuff. It’s the kind of thing that says welcome home wherever you’ve been …okay.”
This is the recipe for the Watercress Veloute that Cindy made (that was passed along to her from a friend).