Strawberries and cream: a short history

Updated on 03 July 2017 | 0 Comments

We sure do get through our strawberries and cream come Wimbledon time. But what sparked this pairing in the first place?

Who’s to blame for our obsession with summery strawberries and cream? And where are the Wimbledon ones grown? Grab your spoons, we’re diving in...

A few fruity facts

First, let us start with the berry itself. Or not, as the case may be. By definition, a ‘berry’ is a fleshy fruit produced from a single seed… strawberries sport their dry, yellow seeds on the outside (each seed being a separate fruit), so officially they’re not in the berry club.  But they are part of the rose family, which must be of some consolation.

Three more stonking facts…

  • Folklore states that if you split a double strawberry in half and share it with someone of the opposite sex, you’ll soon fall in love. Try it!
  • Did you know strawberries can help whiten your teeth? All thanks to the fruity acids, which help remove stains.
  • Strawberry juice mixed with a little honey can soothe sunburn… rub the mixture into the skin and rinse off with warm water and lemon juice.

Thomas Wolsey’s favourite fruit

Cardinal WolseyCardinal Wolsey, the man credited with inventing the strawberries and cream combo, was a powerful figure in the court of King Henry VIII – it was he who began building Hampton Court, which was home to the largest kitchens in Tudor England. Imagine the aromas!

Seeing as Henry VIII’s court fed at least 600 hungry lords and ladies twice a day, you can imagine the chef’s desperate need for a pudding which was quick, tasty, and required no cooking whatsoever. Enter wild strawberries and cream which, legend has it, was first served at a banquet Wolsey hosted in 1509. So in fact it was the un-named chef at Hampton Court who probably whisked the idea up, and not Cardinal Wolsey. Poor un-named chef!

Of course, whatever the King and his good lady ate automatically became fashionable. Hence why the 16th century saw the beginnings of cross breeding and selectively enhancing attributes in strawberries (giving rise to such varieties as Little Scarlet and Cambridge Favourite) to make them as plump and juicy as possible. 

Tudor praise for strawberries and cream

The popularity of the combo was still going strong 30-odd years later… Tudor traveller Andrew Boorde wrote of them:

"Rawe crayme undecocted, eaten with strawberyes or hurtes (whortleberry, billberry) is a rurall mannes blanket. I have knowen such blankettes hath put men in jeoperdy of theyr lyves."

Plus physician to the king Bruerin-Champier wrote that English ladies loved their strawberries and cream so much, that many began planting the fruit in their own garden. I wonder if any of Henry VIII’s six wives had a patch…

Hugh Lowe Farms

Surely the most popular farm in all the land, Hugh Lowe in Kent has been supplying Wimbledon with strawberries for 20 years.

A special truck from Wimbledon HQ takes the Elsanta strawberries straight back to expectant crowds in the afternoon, so there’s a good chance that your Wimbledon strawberries were picked that very same day. A staggering 28,000kg (61,700lb) of their strawberries are consumed by tennis fans.

“I don’t think there’s a single strawberry grower in the country who isn’t a Wimbledon fan,” says Marion, whose great grandfather’s family used to have a strawberry stall in Covent Garden market. However, Marion, like many other fruit farmers, is warning of a possible supply shortage if migrant workers are not allowed to work in the UK post-Brexit.

How do you eat yours?

Anyone remember the strawberries and clotted cream sandwich, launched in 2012 by Tesco? Grim. Quirky though, and at £1 a pop it was worth buying one of the 435 calorie beasts just to say that you’d tried it.

The berries, from Staffordshire, were sliced and placed between two pieces of white poppy seed bread that were spread with Rodda's Cornish clotted cream, and a dollop of strawberry jam. We don’t think Tesco is doing it this year, so you’ll just have to make your own.

Are you a strawberries and cream fan? Do you take them straight, or mix it up with another ingredient? Talk to us in the Comments box below.

This is a classic loveFOOD article that has been updated

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