The following is a guest post.
Like many great cultural events, the Wimbledon tennis championships have generated other traditions, besides the game.
Beginning on June 23 in south-west London, for many Brits, Wimbledon also symbolises rain, queuing, royalty in their Centre Court viewing box, and possibly even Cliff Richard leading the crowd in a sing-along. And of course, Wimbledon also means food: lots of food.
Those who visit the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club to watch the tournament in person are almost obliged to consume a helping of strawberries and cream, with the British media never failing to discuss the price of this treat.
In 2013, 10 berries served with thick pouring cream cost £2.50 (just over 4 US dollars), but since that price has held steady for the past 4 years, I’d bet on an increase this year.
If that sounds a little steep, keep in mind the strawberries are Grade 1, grown in Kent and picked the day before, to arrive at Wimbledon at 5:30 in the morning. Over 8,600 punnets are consumed each day by eager tennis watchers, with 28,000kg disappearing during the fortnight’s tournament.
But the Brits eat far more than just strawberries during their beloved annual tennis fest. Pimm’s, the classic English fruit cup based on gin, has enjoyed huge popularity since its tournament debut in 1971. 200,000 glasses will be drunk by Wimbledon attendees this year.
If Pimm’s is new to you, it’s easy to spot as there will most likely be chunks of apple, cucumber, lemon and some mint swirling around in the glass. Its full and proper name, in fact, is Pimm’s No. 1 Cup, a hint that other varieties, based on different alcohol types, have been made at various times. However, most have either been phased out or are now only available seasonally or in small quantities.
Those who don’t care for Pimm’s will find solace in beer or lager… or possibly one of the 25,000 bottles of champagne which will be poured down thirsty tennis throats this year.
With play starting most days around 1 or 2pm (this can be earlier if weather has interfered with the schedule), many spectators have eaten lunch before arriving. This means that afternoon tea holds a special place in Wimbledon tradition, dating back even further than the current club’s location, to 1877.
Legend has it that in 1907, Mrs Blanche Hillyard, already a six-time champion, was knocked out after guzzling bread and butter, cakes, Bath Buns and 3 plates of strawberries during a rain interval. Unfortunately, she was then required to continue her match.
These days, afternoon tea is still big business: the crowds will consume 150,000 scones, pastries and doughnuts, and twice that many cups of tea and coffee. But it’s not all about sweet treats. More substantial dishes, like British fish and chips, are also popular, with both salmon and smoked salmon also selling in large quantities.
Finally, honourable mention must go to the Dutchee. A close cousin of the hot dog in appearance, my research indicates they are only sold under this name at Wimbledon. Consisting of a spicy Cumberland sausage served in a French-style baguette, 60,000 of these highly portable snacks will be sold this year. No doubt Blanche Hillyard would approve.
(Watch this clip of BBC Radio 5 live pundit Jeff Tarango as he introduces the Dutchee to his podcast partner, Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/tennis/8763835.stm)
If you’re inspired by this British tennis tradition and would like to create some Wimbledon dishes of your own, recipe suggestions can be found here:
Pauline is British by birth and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area nine years ago and, apart from a yearning for afternoon tea and historic homes, has never looked back. Her work has been published by House of Fifty, Toasted Cheese and Alfie Dog Fiction. Her first novel, Saving Saffron Sweeting, was released in Spring 2013. Visit her site here.