Like the look of these strawberries and cream muffins? Join us in delving into their history (before we delve into their paper cases and get our faces mucky)
Wimbledon begins again in just over a week. And out come the strawberries and cream. Of course, everyone associates the dish with the tennis tournament but we only recently learned why, and just how far back strawberries and cream goes…
It’s summer, 1509. Henry VII has recently shuffled off his mortal coil and his son, Henry (soon to be VIII) has set about spending his father’s carefully tended coffers. Henry has married Catherine of Aragon and is shortly to have a bun in the royal oven. As is custom, on ascending the throne, he has also released most of the country’s prisoners. A generous, if fairly rash idea. All in all, it’s early days, they know nothing of the difficulties to come. It’s a summer of love, of excess… and of feasting.
Royal banquets were expected to feed up to 600 at a time. Twice a day. A feat that would make a bottle of Fairy Liquid cower today. Thomas Wolsey was tasked with arranging all this and, with 600-odd guests chomping their way through up to 44 courses at any one meal, some of those courses would need to be very simple to prepare.
The combination of strawberries and cream is said to have first appeared at one of these feasts in 1509. Cream had previously been considered a peasant food - the Turkey Twizzler of its day - but the dish went down a storm. And of course, what was served for the King soon became fashionable in every well-to-do dining room across England. English ladies became so excited about the pud, they were charging their gardeners to cultivate strawberries to serve to their own dinner guests. The country went briefly strawberries and cream mad.
But whence came the tennis link? Thomas Wolsey’s palace had a tennis court, where he apparently also served strawberries and cream. Well don’t we all have that one signature pud we always fall back on when guests descend?
By the time the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament began in 1877, it was obviously peak strawberry season, but also Tudor history was ‘having a moment’. It seems to have a moment at least once a century - Hilary Mantel didn’t jump willy nilly on that particular bandwagon, of course. So all the planets were aligned for strawberries and cream to make a comeback. And come back they did. But they never left.
And why would they? Sweet, juicy strawberries and rich, cold cream are one of history’s most winning combinations, going together like love and marriage, fun and feasting… Henry VIII and gout…. Yes, maybe go easy on the cream with those strawberries this Wimbledon.
We’re celebrating Wimbledon with these strawberries and cream muffins (pictured) from our June issue, which is on sale now if you’d like the recipe. Just the thing to accompany your cuppa during the Women’s Final. The recipe from The Tin & Traybake Cookbook by Sam Gates (Robinson). Photography: Peter Wright