Discover the quintessentially British snacks that feedthe Wimbledon crowds each summer
o one has ever accused the people who run Wimbledon of jumping on a bandwagon. They don’t follow trends or fads. In fact, it’s the competition’s strict adherence to tradition that separates Wimbledon not only from other tennis tournaments but also from other major sporting events.
Take, for example, Wimbledon’s trademark treat: strawberries and cream. It took anywhere from a few decades to more than a century, depending on which reports you believe, to make the association official. But did Wimbledon adopt the fan favorite? Or was it created by vendors at the tournament?
Short answer: The dish predates lawn tennis by several centuries. While tennislike games involving balls batted around with paddles have been played since the time of ancient Greece, modern tennis, the kind played at Wimbledon, has been around only since 1874, when Major Walter Wingfield, then of London, patented a game called lawn tennis.
The strawberries and cream treat, on the other hand, has been around since the 16th century. References to the dish date back as far as 1542, when an Englishman named Andrew Boorde enthused about the addictive nature of a rural recipe for “raw crayme [cream] eten with strawbeyes [strawberries].”
Each year, more than 61,000 pounds of strawberries and approximately 1,800 gallons of cream are consumed at Wimbledon
Strawberries and tennis, both arbiters of summer’s arrival, were symbols of prosperity back in 1877, when the Wimbledon Championships first began. It would have been common to see the tournament’s upper-crust audience snacking on the sweet treat in between matches. However, the relationship between the two was not formalized until 1953, when vendors officially started selling Kentish Elsanta strawberries at Wimbledon’s concession stands. Thus, a great marriage between food and sport was made.
It’s unclear when cream was added to the mix. Some experts say that it became part of the Wimbledon tradition in 1970. Others claim that there is more evidence of strawberries and cream being served as far back as 1881—or more than 300 years before, in Boorde’s day.
One thing is clear: More than 61,000 pounds of strawberries and approximately 1,800 gallons of cream are consumed every year during the 13-day event, according to the catering company that handles all the food and drink operations for Wimbledon. And despite an inability to pin down the exact date the tradition started, those numbers confirm that strawberries and cream and Wimbledon go together as well as, well, strawberries and cream.
This dish is not, however, the only culinary tradition that has taken root at Wimbledon. Here are three very popular and very British gastronomic delights also served during the event.
In 1823, London oyster-bar owner James Pimm started serving a drink of gin, mint, cucumber and apples. Pour that concoction over lemonade and you have Wimbledon’s version of the mint julep. The first Pimm’s Cups were served at the 1971 tournament. More than 40 years later, approximately 200,000 glasses are served annually.
For more than 40 years, the Pimm’s Cup has been Wimbledon’s unofficial cocktail, with fans tippling more than 200,000 glasses every year
Similar to an empanada, this savory pastry was originally made for miners because it was so portable. The half moon–shaped mini-pie is filled with meat and vegetables and then baked. The Long Bar food market at Wimbledon serves them for €4 apiece, but no one knows how long they’ve been part of the tradition or how many are sold each year.
Stuffed with meat and vegetables, the baked Cornish pasty is a savory favorite at the Wimbledon concession stands
Some sports foods seem to be universal. A dutchee is a spicy sausage on a bun, similar to a hot dog, and there’s nothing particularly quaint or charming about it. But it has become a crowd favorite, with debates breaking out over the relative amount of spice in the meat from year to year. Each summer, about 60,000 are served to the crowds at Wimbledon.
CHUCK TANNERT is a writer based in New York City. His work has appeared in Cargo and Wired and on CNET, among other print and online outlets.