You can decorate your cake with them, add them to your smoothie, have them with your ice cream or smear the jam version on your bread. It’s no surprise that we’ve dedicated countless songs, poems and books to the humble strawberry, one of the most well-loved and versatile culinary protagonists in the world.
From its distinct sweet flavour to its delightfully juicy consistency, there’s virtually nothing not to love about this berry sensation, which is undeniably a celebrity among its fellow fruits. While it’s a popular addition to a host of drinks, breakfasts, desserts and snacks at any time of year, it’s most readily available in the UK spring and summer. This year, why not supplement your enthusiasm for this gastronomic treasure with a few fun facts about its history and preparation methods? They’re sure to make your next trip to the supermarket, the English countryside or Wimbledon that little bit sweeter. So let’s dig in!
A Humble History
Although a life without chocolate-covered strawberries is difficult to imagine today, the fruit’s beginnings were actually berry (see what we did there?) humble. Like many of the good things we’ve come to appreciate in life,strawberrieswere first documented by the ancient Romans – who believed they had anti-inflammatory and anti-depressive properties, along with a range of other medicinal benefits. It was only in the fourteenth century, however, that the French started moving wild strawberry plants from forests to their own gardens, initiating the strawberry craze that eventually spread around the world. In the fifteenth century, the fruit began featuring heavily in Flemish, German, Italian and English art.
Its cultivation became more commonplace in Europe – and particularly England – in the sixteenth century. By then, the wild strawberry had definitely made its claim to fame, but was not yet the variety that we know and love today. The garden version that dominates our fields and supermarket shelves today was first cultivated in eighteenth-century Brittany, spreading around the world like wildfire in the ensuing years. It was love at first taste – even devoid of the confectionery that quite often accompanies it today.
While this sweet fruity sensation stars in dishesall over the world, England is credited as the place of origin of some of the most irresistible strawberry-based desserts. Whether you’re off to explore the Big Smoke in London or take a breather in the countryside, make sure you enhance your holiday with a few of these classic creations.
- Strawberries & Cream: This iconic British combination is credited to Thomas Wolsey, who was King Henry VIII’s Wolseyoversaw the construction of Hampton Court Palace, whose kitchens pioneered the dish. How this simple, delicious concoction eventually became the must-have Wimbledon tradition that it is today is unknown, but it’s believed that King George V may have set the trend in the early twentieth century. Regardless of why they’re associated with the tennis, however, we can’t think of a snack that better represents the onset of summer!
- Eton Mess: Meringue, whipped cream and strawberries come together in the Eton Mess, which is a typically British dessert. As indicated by its name, it was first served in Eton College in the late nineteenth century, where it is still eaten regularly today. But now the rest of the world is awake up to this delicious dish, which is readily available throughout the UK and easily made at home.
- Strawberry Shortcake: Good day, bad day, it really doesn’t matter! Because nothing beats tucking into a piece of this sublime cake for a taste temptation that’s truly out of this world. The beauty of the dish lies in its simplicity: strawberries and sugar are combined with whipped cream and placed between two light-as-air shortcakes. While the dessert is especially popular in America, don’t be fooled: its first recipe was actually first printed in England in the sixteenth century. So what better place to taste it than in its country of origin?
Ready to impress your friends and family with your newfound knowledge of strawberries? Whip it out and drop a few “did you knows?” as you savour the above specialities at your next tennis outing, city break or country retreat in England.