France’s Smallest River, Watercress Beds and Soup

As piles of neatly tied bouquets of watercress were stacked high at our local market last week for my Watercress Soup, they instantly conjured up scenes of the watercress beds, or Cressonnières, in Veules-les-Roses this summer. Come join me on a wee jaunt up the watercress road in the Pays-de-Caux in Upper Normandy.

With our all-time dream African Safari cancelled this summer due to my persisting back problems, we finally consoled ourselves and ventured out of Paris with a long weekend in Veules-les-Roses, a sleepy little town on France’s Normandy coast. Julie and Lucie took it like young adults, as the promise of the Big Five game animals were comically replaced by Normandy cows and curious cats looking for fishy leftovers from the seafood restaurants dotted along the town’s seafront.

Veules-les-Roses has two main attractions: it’s home to the smallest river in France, the Veules. It’s the shortest sea-bound river at 1.194 km (about 3/4 of a mile), along which there are three restored 18th Century watermills.

Also, at the source of les Veules river, lies the watercress beds, or Cressonnières. The clear running water’s current of Veules-les-Roses has favoured the cultivation of watercress since the 14th Century. Harvesting watercress is done here by hand with a knife and ties.

The watercress of Veules is known for its fine leaves, its particularly spicy taste and makes the perfect ingredient for a light and healthy soupe de cresson. Watercress is also useful, as it’s always in season.

 

The bunches of watercress that are formed during harvesting are called chignons, when the roots of the stalks come outside the bunch. Luckily these days, harvesting is done wearing rubber boots, rather than sodden feet steeped in 10cm of cold (about 10°C) water wearing clogs with heavy metal leggings!

watercress beds for soup

As Autumn now blows around Paris, comforting spoonfuls of healthy watercress soup help to prepare us for any sniffles or scratchy throats that niggle and nudge as November closes in on us, as it contains iron, calcium and Vitamins A and C.

watercress soup or French soupe de cresson

French Watercress Soup

Watercress Soup (Soupe au Cresson)

A large bunch of watercress
20g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
500ml water
250ml chicken (or vegetable) stock
Salt, pepper
2-3 tbsp cream (optional)

method for watercress soup

1.  Wash the watercress, drain and set aside.

2.  Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan and sweat the onion until cooked but not browned. Add the watercress with the stalks, roughly chopped potatoes and cover with the water and stock. Season with salt and pepper.  Cover and cook gently for 30 minutes.

3. Blitz the soup with a hand blender or in a food processor until smooth. If you prefer your soup less thick, then you could sieve at this point, although I personally love it with the fibre addition of the stalks.

If serving as an elegant starter dish, swirl in a dash of cream and why not surprise your guests with a mini MadMac herb macaron? The recipe is on page 97 of the book.

More on Veules-les-Roses coming up soon. Join in a festival with a difference…

18 replies
  1. Tracy W
    Tracy W says:

    Thank you. I have now learned something new. I never ever knew how watercress was grown and harvested. Now the ‘water’ in watercress makes a lot of sense. I somehow thought it was just grown like most other veggies…in the soil. You learn something new every day !

    Reply
  2. Gintare @Gourmantine
    Gintare @Gourmantine says:

    I’ve missed so many of your posts Jill, but it’s always a pleasure to catch up! Watercress soup does sound very interesting, never tried it before, but perhaps I need all the vitamins to resist the creeping up cold. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    What is funny is that last Friday at the market husband pointed and said “Oh look! Cresson!” I love your little trip because I did not know there was a special place devoted to cresson! This is so interesting but more than that wow is it pretty! A great little adventure – even though I can imagine how disappointed you must be about your back and your safari 🙁 But a lovely little escapade, Jill! I love discovering new hidden parts of France like this!

    Reply
    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Thanks, Jamie. Well, I guess it’s perhaps not so hidden now 😉
      Highly recommend you take a wee jaunt there – not far for you in Nantes.

      Reply
  4. June S
    June S says:

    Dad grows watercress in the new greenhouse. In fact I think it must have been bought for this purpose. Those egg and cress sandwich fingers at Musselburgh sure has lasting memories. M & S sells brioche fingers so with egg filling we are sorted. We loved this area in Normandy as well – must go back. Especially poignant at Remembrance Day.

    Reply
    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Interesting comment, Mum – as we’ve been used to garden cress in sandwiches – I take it that’s what Dad is growing in the new greenhouse? I’ve not really appreciated watercress until going to Normandy. The flavour between the garden – or mustard – cress is so different, although they are related.
      Yes, highly emotional going to Normandy on the landing beaches. Coming up in the next post.

      Reply
  5. JP Durand
    JP Durand says:

    I think you’ve just helped me plan a weekend away Jill. Any good addresses? 😉
    First time I’ve seen watercress being harvested too. Soup looks great.

    Reply
    • Jill
      Jill says:

      It’s a great spot for a weekend away – and this weekend is a long one too! I’ll put together a post on this soon, especially as I’ve just created an account on TripAdvisor as didn’t agree with the comments in this area. I highly recommend staying at the Casino Hotel in Saint-Valery-en-Caux just next to Veules-les-Roses. And in Veules, there’s a great crêperie, Le p’tit Veulais.

      Reply
  6. Linda Roberson
    Linda Roberson says:

    Hi Jill! Sorry to hear about your back problems! Africa is a fabulous place!

    Wanted to mention the email you sent me was full of blanks, weird designs, and stripes.

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Linda, I hear you – love Africa too but I’ll go back one day (pardon the pun!)
      Thanks for letting me know about the strange email – it’s perhaps a problem with Feedburner? Not good with techie issues like this but if anyone else had a problem with the email alert, please do let me know. Cheers!

      Reply
    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Isn’t that funny, Maureen? Me too – my first reaction was I’m familiar with cress in sandwiches (favourite filling on Scottish summer picnics) but this is so different as watercress. The peppery taste is a bit like roquette but it’s not. The soup is delicious – hope you try it!

      Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] I’d forgotten to share the rest of a Normandy short break we made last summer. Remember the visit to the watercress beds in Veules-les-Roses?  It’s not surprising that this Normandy village, with the smallest river in Europe, was […]

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