It is impossible to think of any other major sporting event in which a single item of fruit is accorded celebrity status. But so it is with the strawberry at Wimbledon. According to one history of the strawberry, “The most famous public eating of strawberries is at Wimbledon each year, when strawberries and cream are consumed between tennis matches by properly attired English”.
This week the All England Club has been inundated with media requests to find out more about the provenance of its strawberries, to film the pre-dawn delivery of the day’s punnet requirement and to capture (health & safety-approved) ‘fly’-on-the-wall footage of the hulling kitchen, where a valiant army of students sit in a chilled room removing the green bit on each of the 10 berries that go into one bowl. So far this Championships, 89,000 portions of strawberries (ie 890,000 actual berries) have been served. In total over the fortnight, 28,000kg will be eaten with 7,000 litres of cream.
Such is the depth of fascination with the consumption that, at the end of May, a minibus full of AELTC Club members set off to pay homage to the south-facing growing fields of Hugh Lowe Farms in Mereworth, Kent, run by Marion and Jon Regan. The farm, near Maidstone, has netted the position of official provider to The Championships for the past two decades without a break which - so the local joke goes - gives new meaning to the Beatles’ line about strawberry fields forever. The Club touring party were reassured to learn that the recent cool wet weather caused a slower start to the growing season, which meant that the ripening phase was timed perfectly for Wimbledon.
Hacker the Dog, a puppet dog modelled on a Border Terrier (the same breed as Andy Murray’s Maggie May), is a presenter of British children’s television’s CBBC. With great excitement he returned to Wimbledon (he has filmed several episodes in pursuit of Sue Barker – geddit?) in order to set up his own stall in front of the strawberry counter selling Strawberries’n’Bream. So now a whole new generation will grow up accepting the strawberry’s high-celebrity status.
Thanks to Wimbledon, the strawberry must be the most ‘understood’ of fruit. For those who may have missed out on a berry trivial side of a Grand Slam, here are the salient facts:The name ‘strawberry’ was derived from the fact that berries are ‘strewn’ about on the plants. ‘Strewn berry’ eventually became ‘strawberry’.