ICONS OF THE GREAT BRITISH SUMMER
Tennis season in the form of Wimbledon would usually have passed us by this time of year in the absence of a pandemic, accompanied by a fine selection of quintessential English summer foods. By these I’m eyeing up fruit filled Pimm’s, strawberries, cream, amalgamated into a delicious Eton mess or even some scones topped with the fine creamy stuff!
In a bid to address my own curiosity about the history of these summer delights, allow me to share my findings as to why the British consumers are so fond of these classics!
Pimm’s is hailed as being more British than a cup of tea and served at major tournaments aside from Wimbledon such as Polo matches, the Henley Royal Regatta, graduation ceremonies, wedding welcome drinks (as was the case at my own wedding), and even civilised garden soirees!
The inventor, James Pimm’s, (originally a farmer’s son from Kent) owned a number of Oyster Bars in London and in 1840, invented the gin-based spirit having a fruity flavour to be used as a tonic. The health benefits of drinking tonics at this time was fashionable hence why the original recipe contained quinine. It was also served in small tankards and called the No. 1 cup, giving it the name, ‘Pimm’s No. 1 Cup’ as we know it.
Naturally Pimm’s is a secret recipe infusing gin with a mix of herbal botanicals, caramelised orange and warm spices. James also accompanied the drink with the phrase ‘Pimm’s O’ Clock’, which is so widely used today.
Pimm’s is usually made with one part summer cup and three parts lemonade. It’s garnished with summer strawberries, sliced cucumber, oranges and fresh mint.
Strawberries & Cream
Wimbledon is just as equally about strawberries and clotted cream as it is about the sport! The reasoning for how strawberries became such an integral part of the tournament is a bit of a mystery. However, it may be due to English strawberries being in season at the time and also that they were quite the fashion during Victorian England!
It is thought, Strawberries and cream were first put together in 1509 when the great Cardinal Wolsey paired them at a banquet during Henry VIII’s reign. A fact I will always reminisce on when I walk past Cardinal Wolsey’s statue in Leicester! It was in 1877, that strawberries and cream were served at Wimbledon, a whopping 400 years later. After all strawberries were a luxury and it was the elite who had the privilege to attend tournaments such as Wimbledon.
To find out more on Cardinal Wolsey and the history of Leicester, have a gander of the posts below:
Strawberries served at Wimbledon, are grown in Kent County, adjacent to the city of London and can be delivered to the All England club within an hour! It was reported, in 2019, over 140,000 servings of strawberries and 10,000 litres of cream were served at the Tennis tournament.
Scones & Strawberries
Strawberries have a bit of a rep with the English Elite and as a seasonal food they are only available for a short period and their availability marked the start of summer. They seemed to have evolved into a luxury food item widely accessible to the wealthy and were included in afternoon tea in the early summer, although we can have them at anytime of the year now and therefore are a part of the present-day afternoon tea.
Scones actually came about from a Scottish quick bread and were originally made with oats and griddle baked! They evolved into their present state with their popularity rising around 1788-1862, with the Duchess of Bedford, Anna’s penchant for taking tea and a sweet bread around 4pm daily! Hence, they are still served just as she had then with clotted cream and jam in Britain!
A complete classic and favourite picnic dessert in our household has a widely accepted story! Once upon a time at a Eton v Harrow cricket match, a strawberries, meringue and cream dessert was dropped. Instead of wasting the pudding, someone genius had the idea to scoop it back up and serve it in individual portions, hence Eton Mess was born!
Personally, I enjoy a good messy desert and tend to serve my strawberries sliced topped with a fine mix of whipped double cream and crushed meringue. Usually in a bow or in more recent years layered in a tumbler! If by any chance the strawberries are super tart, a sprinkling of icing sugar can be added to, based on your taste.
Scones, strawberries, cream, Eton Mess and Pimm’s are my interpretation of the icons of a British summer and no warm breezed event should go without at least one of these photogenic icons being present, don’t you agree?
You can find more strawberry recipe ideas from Great British Chefs
So tell me, what’s your British summer icon?