Green grass, tennis whites and big red strawberries. It can only be Wimbledon even though nobody really seems to know how the seasonal fruit became ubiquitous at the All England Club.
The annual tennis tournament, considered to be among the most traditional of sporting events, certainly has its customs and peculiarities. And strawberries with or without a layer of milky cream are one of them.
“I love it,” said CiCi Bellis, an 18-year-old American player who made her main draw debut at Wimbledon this week. “There’s kind of a vibe that comes off when people are eating it. I think it’s definitely one of the main attributes of Wimbledon, for sure.”
The link between strawberries and Wimbledon, a tournament that started in 1877, is muddy. But the main theory has to do with timing. “We suspect that, in the early years of Wimbledon, the strawberry season was very short and it just happened to coincide with The Championships,” said Robert McNicol, the librarian at the All England Club. “So that’s how the connection probably started. And over the years it just grew into a tradition.”
Whatever the origins, it’s taken on a life of its own just like the grass surface the game is played on and the rules obligating competitors to wear all white while on court.
Around the grounds, it’s obvious that the tournament and the fans take their strawberries seriously. At the official shop, you can buy Wimbledon coffee mugs with strawberries on them, or even keychains and magnets. If you’re going swimming, how about a Wimbledon beach towel decorated with different colored strawberries?
You can even get strawberries and cream-flavored ice cream, a big seller this week. “If somebody says Wimbledon, people think of strawberries,” Steve Clayton, the father of British doubles player Scott Clayton, said as he walked by No. 1 Court with a plastic tub filled with strawberries and cream.
The fruit is sold all around the All England Club, and on Day 1 there was even a mobile water seller that this year had strawberries for sale. That seemed to be a good idea. Maybe too good.
“We couldn’t keep up,” said 20-year-old Dom Corbett, who was working behind the counter and charging 2.50 pounds (about $3.20) per serving of about 10 strawberries. “We were running out of strawberries before they could come to the front of the queue.”
Wimbledon gets its strawberries from a farm in Kent, a county in southeast England. They are picked at sunrise every morning and shipped to Wimbledon. The cream comes from a farm in Lancashire in northern England.
“The freshest strawberries you can get,” said Anthony Davies, the head of food and beverage at the All England Club. Fresh indeed, but not all of them seem to make it to the shelves. If a strawberry isn’t shaped to perfection, the people hired to cut off the flowery green stem are told to throw them away. That doesn’t always happen, though.
“We eat them,” a pair of young women, almost in tandem, said sheepishly while working behind the counter at one of the food stops.
Davies said the club goes through about two tons about 4,000 pounds of strawberries every day. The club sold 28 tons during last year’s two-week tournament. Marion Regan of Hugh Lowe Farms, however, said late last month she feared Britain’s exit from the European Union could affect her workforce in the future most of the farm’s strawberries are picked by workers from eastern Europe.
The All England Club refused to comment on Regan’s concerns. Back at Wimbledon, the club might be able to eclipse last year’s mark of strawberries sold if it can get the mobile sellers stocked up again.
“They were very, very popular on Monday,” Davies said. “We’re just working through some technical, logistical bits to try and get those back on sale.”
Most people at Wimbledon seem to like the tradition of the strawberries, but not everyone can agree on the cream part. “You have to (have it). Strawberries and cream,” said Bellis, who also played in the junior tournament at Wimbledon in 2014.
Another American competitor, Donald Young, took the opposite view. “Love the strawberries. Cream? Not so much,” said Young, who lost to Rafael Nadal in the second round. “It tastes like condensed milk to me. I’ll do strawberries and sugar, though. I’d have a bunch of that.”