Cheshire Food Hero
19th August 2011
Peter Jones is known throughout the food “chain” of the North West as ‘Peter – Wirral Watercress’. However, to think of him only in these terms would be to dismiss his market garden operation as being a little one dimensional.
Stephen Wundke writes
The reason that this happens so often is because the watercress that Peter grows was the first crop from his Wirral market garden, which is now in its sixth year, and a product that is instantly recognisable from its taste alone.
In 2005 Peter decided to become the third generation of his family to enter into the market garden business and he set up the now shining beacon of market produce known as “Wirral Watercress”. It is his dedication to the growing of this crop that has seen him become the “oracle” of watercress throughout the North West.
In 2008 he was awarded Merseyside Producer of the Year and in the same year he was commended by North West Fine Foods for his unique flavours and it was at this point that the word really began to spread.
A tie up, through Made in Cheshire and Jane Casson, saw Peter introduced to the Restaurant Association of Chester andCheshire and its members started to put Peter’s products on their menus. Jane remembers the first time she tried Peter’s watercress: “The first thing that was obvious was the health of the watercress, its deep green colour, the vibrant leaves – and then the intense burst of flavour; a clean “pepperiness” that I hadn’t tasted for a long time. I just knew that this was a special product.”
Peter began supplying some of Chester’s leading restaurants and the chefs started asking him to grow Microshoots, which were becoming the new taste sensation on their menus. Now the product list includes pea shoots, cherry tomatoes, rocket, courgettes and cucumbers.
The operation has grown dramatically but what is always evident is the passion that Peter has for his product and the flavour. Peter believes this should always be the overriding factor in his crops. “If it doesn’t taste really good, then I don’t want to grow it. We have something special in the soil here that just helps nature create very distinct flavours for our produce, we then hand cut everything which I think is why the end product always looks so fresh.”
His product is now in demand from some of the North West’s premier restaurants with Liverpool’s Paul Askew and Lancashire’s Nigel Howarth all asking for more and more of his stock.
“We now supply five Michelin starred chefs across the North West and they constantly want new flavours. That’s how the micro salad shoots started and why now we are being asked for edible flowers, like the courgette. Our beetroot is attracting a lot of attention and the wild garlic we grew this year went in days. It appears that taste is making a real comeback and I hope that keeps going as we will keep looking for more and more intense flavours.”
Peter Jones is a Cheshire food hero, look out for him at Food and Drink festivals across Cheshire and enjoy real food grown and harvested the way that God intended.
Wirral Watercress is located at Childer Thornton on the Wirral. For more information visit: www.wirralwatercress.co.uk
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