These are the last strawberries of this season and I must bid them goodbye with a slightly heavy heart. Mangoes are my favourite fruit and strawberries come a close second or third. There was a time when I used to envy all those food blogs that were written by people who lived in strawberry country because we couldn’t get them here. Strawberries have always been grown in the temperate regions of India but they never made it down to the more tropical parts of the country.
Thankfully, all that has changed now and when the season arrives, my local market is awash in the bright red, juicy berries that arrive fresh almost every morning after having travelled hours from the farms where they’re grown. I rarely some back from a visit to the market without at least 2 to 4 little boxes of strawberries and the first thing I do is make jam and then I freeze a huge batch of them for later use. Then I trawl the net and my cookbooks for things to make with them.
As good as the various things that I have made with them have tasted and that includes a couple of Strawberry Cakes, Strawberry Shortcakes, Strawberry Muffins, Mousse, Stracchiatella and Sorbet. I have since discovered my favourite way to eat strawberries is the simplicity and deliciousness that is Strawberries and Cream.
I first discovered the combination of Strawberries and Cream years ago in the days when we used to watch tennis stalwarts like Martina Navratilova, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl and Steffi Graf (you now know I’m ancient!) at Wimbledon, on television.
The commentators would go on about how iconic Strawberries and Cream at Wimbledon was, and show us the spectators at the Games wholeheartedly enjoying them. This was so long before I ever saw a strawberry for real!
The tradition of strawberries at Wimbledon goes back to the first games in 1877 and there’s nothing behind this apart from the fact that both Wimbledon and the strawberry season happened at the beginning of summer.
While it was considered fashionable to eat strawberries at Wimbledon, it seems vendors actually began selling punnets of strawberries to Wimbledon spectators in only 1953 and the practice of adding a little sugar and cream to them supposedly began in 1970 though no one knows for sure.
However, the pairing of strawberries and cream as a dessert is not a Wimbledon thing and that idea is apparently credited to Cardinal Wolsey though it actually belongs to the chefs in his kitchen who created the enduring combination. Cardinal Wolsey is said to have had the dessert served at Tudor feasts at Hampton Court in the 1500s. The Cardinal was a powerful man who became the Lord Chancellor in the court of King Henry VIII as well his right hand man. The Cardinal built himself a huge palace and King Henry’s court is said to have spent a lot of time here.
Home to the largest kitchens in Tudor England, the chefs at Hampton court were known to have fed 600 lords and ladies twice daily. The Tudors were known for their excessive lifestyle and it is suggested that the chefs In the Cardinal’s kitchens came up with the Strawberries and Cream combination in an answer to a dessert they could prepare in little time given the number of people they were feeding.
Apparently until someone in those kitchens came up with the bright idea of serving strawberries with cream, dairy products were considered to be peasant food by the upper classes!
A lot of detail goes into the strawberries at Wimbledon. The strawberries are picked the day before being served to ensure freshness, and they are delivered to Wimbledon at around 5:30 in the morning where they’re inspected and then hulled. Strawberries at Wimbledon must be served in punnets of not less than 10 berries with a little cream. Last year, in 2014, over 28,000kg of Strawberries and more than 7,000 litres of fresh cream were consumed by spectators at Wimbledon! That’s how popular the dessert is.
The English way of eating strawberries is to sprinkle a little sugar over them and then serve this with a little cream, usually of pouring consistency though you could use soft whipped or stiffly whipped cream as well.
I personally prefer to macerate my strawberries because it creates a lovely juicy mixture. So I first hull and chop them, sprinkle a little sugar over them, add some vanilla extract and mix everything. Then I leave this to sit in the fridge for a few hours. This year I discovered that fresh thyme adds an interesting flavour to strawberries so I added that too.
If I have it in stock r have the time make it, I also like one more addition to my Strawberries and Cream, and that’s a little crunch in the form of an Oat Crumble. The Oat Crumble is something one can make ahead and it’s easy enough to do. If you make a large batch, it can be stored in an airtight container for a couple of weeks and you can serve it with other desserts like ice-cream.
In the recipe below, the amounts of sugar in the strawberries and the cream are more a guideline than a rule. You may adjust the amounts depending on how sweet (or not) your fruit is and to suit your taste. I personally prefer my fruit to be slightly sweet and the cream to have just a hint of sweetness.
I also like my cream whipped somewhat stiff. Out here, we don’t get cream that has fat higher than 25% so that is what I use and it works well in this recipe.
Recently, a good friend who also blogs about food had some cousins come visiting from abroad and they came bearing a lot of gifts of a foodie nature. She was nice enough to share some of it with me including sachets of cream stabilizer.
I tried using it for the first time in this recipe and found that it makes the cream whip up really stiff and better still, it holds even after hours of refrigeration! I’m going to hoard the stash I have to use for cakes and other confectionery that really needs whipped cream to hold up.