A mother shares a well-kept secret on a spring walk

Spilling the Greens

by Christine Conley

Spilling the Greens


Take a pair of scissors on your next hike; if you find a stash of watercress, snip, don't pull.  

I’m pretty sure it was an act of maternal grace that my mother so kindly shared her secret stash with me. I’ll never forget the walk down the dirt road that led us to the promised cache of peppery goodness. Dappled sunlight filtered through the budding canopy and covered us in a patchwork of light and shade. To our left a rivulet was busy delivering nutrients downstream, and to our right a freshwater pond had become the spring-time stage for song birds and waterfowl. The Island was finally awakening from its winter slumber, and it was the perfect time to be looking for any number of young shoots and leaves that might make a nice addition to our dinner table.

On that day, we had a pointed mission—and that was to collect a sizable portion of fresh, wild greens for our dinner salad. Actually, just one green in particular… watercress.

The dogs trailed slightly behind and were obviously excited by all of the new scents of spring floating on the afternoon breeze. At a break in the roadside shrubbery, my mother abruptly turned off the shoulder and down into a little roadside ravine. Crouching on the bank, she knelt to the water’s edge, wielded her scissors, and set to the task at hand. Before long, we had more than enough wild watercress to mix with our salad greens for a truly seasonal dinner salad. I reached into the plastic bag that we had stowed for the occasion and brought a pinch to my lips…wow! How do you describe the taste of a spicy green that has been separated from the root for less than 20 seconds, except to say “wow!”?

Back at home, a quick rinse of the mustard-cousin and a roll through the salad spinner delivered the peppery leaves and stems to our dinner table. We tossed it in a light dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar spiked with rosemary and a little Dijon mustard. Paired with our swordfish from the grill, our meal was beautiful in its simplicity yet also packed with flavor.

Compared to lettuce, watercress is like the cousin who fills a room and likes to dress you up in make-up. It’s got personality enough to transform any old salad into a zesty, delicious, and stimulating affair. Watercress can be sautéed much like spinach, added to an egg scramble, or combined with potatoes to make a nice creamy soup. Here on the Island, we can get watercress anytime we want by simply being selective with our afternoon walks. That is, anytime reliably between April and October. To some, watercress can taste a little bitter after it flowers, but I’ve been known to indulge long after the last petal falls.

So this spring, as you’re preparing for your next stroll, make sure you know your foraging etiquette (see sidebar), stow a pair of scissors in your back pocket, pull on some muck boots, and keep your eyes peeled. You never know when you’re going to come across your next meal.