Wimbledon fortnight means a captivating combination of world classs tennis and the consumption of a whopping 27,000 kilos of strawberries (at £2.25 a pot) by sports and food lovers.
Every morning of the tournament, at 5.30am to be precise, Grade I Elsanta berries are brought fresh from farms in Kent. They are served to tennis fans with a delicious dollop of cream in a tub containing ‘not less than 10’ pieces of juicy fruit. Ripe strawberries like sunny days at the Wimbledon lawns are always evocative of summer.
This year’s warm spring points to a bumper crop. Strawberries should be sweet, ripe, dark, and perfumed at this time of year. You can get the best produce at farmers’ markets, pick-your-own farms, as well as some supermarkets like Waitrose that stocks speciality fragrant, gorgeous Gariguette and many other popular organic varieties.
Strawberry plants tend to have short lives which is why new varieties are often introduced. They have names summing up the essence of such beautiful fruit: Florence, Eve’s Delight and Symphony.
One among the most prolific British strawberry varieties is the long-cropping Wimbledon favourite Elsanta. A premium Scottish strawberry, Ava, was first grown in 2005. and the large, firm variety, Sonata, was launched in the same year. Another new variety, popular for its zesty flavour, is English Rose and Marie de Bois is similar to a wild strawberry. But interestingly, a recent study concluded that many standard strawberry varieties taste just the sweet as their organic and premium counterparts, which can cost more than double.
Strawberries reign supreme around midsummer, and other soft fruit such as gooseberries, also approach their best towards the end of June. Tayberries, a Scottish hybrid of the blackberry and raspberry, also ripen by then.
Gooseberries, green in early season, soften in texture and taste over summer. A touch sharp, purple tayberries work well, like raspberries and blackberries, in summer pudding, sorbet, pies, or fruit sauces, jellies and jams. There are now new rivals to the traditional soft fruits. The new aronia berry (chokeberry) its Scottish growers claim, is a ‘super berry’ containing more antioxidants than cranberries or blueberries.
To add to the flavour of strawberries let them bask in the sunshine a while and go soft. Wash and hull them, then gently mush them up with double cream, sugar, a nip of Cointreau, if you wish, and orange zest.
You dont need to go to Wimbledon to enjoy strawberries – watch the tournament at home with bowlful unadorned or dip them in balsamic vinegar and serve with mozzarella and prosicutto plus a glass of prosecco. Prosecco Ca’Rosa, Valdobbiadne, for example, has sprightly appley overtones and only 11 per cent alcohol content.