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I associate strawberries and cream with England. The word strawberry comes from the Old English streowberie or streawbelige. This is probably a combination of the words strewed & berry. Strewed means scattered or spread across; straw could have referred to the straw that was used to keep the strawberries fertile and dry.
Strawberries are one of the few fruit that grow wild in England – sweet little red berries twinkling from tangled leaves, most often on the edges of woods. The Romans were the first to cultivate them as a crop, and growing strawberries in the gardens of French palaces became popular in the 14th century. Strawberries were seen as a luxury and poor children would pick them to sell to the rich.
The medieval playwright George Peele, in his play The Old Wives Tale, wrote a song linking strawberries and cream with summer and delight.
“When as the rye reach to the chin,
And chopcherry, chopcherry, ripe within,
Strawberties swimming in the cream,
And schoolboys playing in the stream…”
Back in the day, strawberries were eaten fresh or made into a sauce to be eaten with meat. In 1874, a sugar tax was abolished and consequently sugar became cheaper. This saw a huge increase in boiling strawberries with sugar to make jam, and by the 20th century there was widespread strawberry cultivation in Kent to supply the markets of London.
And of course fresh cream from the cows that dot England’s rolling green landscape is mentioned in literature dating back to Dickens and Hardy.
Perhaps all this is also why strawberries and cream became essentially the official dish of one of England’s biggest sporting events, Wimbledon, conjuring elegant images of ladies in large hats and gents in white trousers sipping champagne from flutes.
Every year about 27,000 kilos of strawberries are eaten during the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, together with 7,000 litres of cream! The popularity of serving strawberries with cream is possibly as old as the event itself.
I decided to update the recipe a little bit for today’s blog. We all have the good fortune of that fact that I made this dish as a dessert at the house of a friend of mine who is a chef – Marta Pan – and Marta added her own amazing touches to make this yummy concoction truly scrumptious:
1 pot crème fraiche (I get quite good quality at SuperValu)
Granulated white sugar
Black sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
Cinnamon and granulated sugar mixed
Anna’s Ginger Thins (sorry for the product placement but I don’t know of any better than these!)
Wash and coarsely chop lots of fresh ripe strawberries.
Toss them in a bowl with a handful of sugar, and Marta’s additions: black sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper.
Place a nice portion in each dessert bowl.
Add another Marta inspiration – a few drops of balsamic reduction.
Mix a pot of crème fraiche with cinnamon and sugar – it will loosen and become more sauce-like.
Dollop crème fraiche on top of each strawberry portion.
Stick an Anna’s Ginger Thin upright in the centre of each bowl.
Drizzle more crème fraiche artfully over the top (this step was performed with great aplomb by Marta’s 12-year-old son, Samuele!).
Take a bite, close your eyes, and think of England! Not to mention summer and delight!