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Wimbledon's strawberries and cream has Tudor roots
By Heather Driscoll-Woodford
BBC Surrey

Strawberreis and cream
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey - credited as being the Nigella Lawson of the Tudor era

Tennis fans at this year's Wimbledon Championship fortnight will tuck into over 23 tonnes of fresh strawberries and a whopping 7000 litres of cream.

But while they are munching on the contents of their £2.50 punnet, most will not be thinking of Thomas Wolsey.

But perhaps they should give him a moment's contemplation, for he is credited with pairing the berry and dairy in the first place.

He was serving the combination at his Tudor feasts as early as the 1500s.

Cardinal Wolsey, to give him one of his many and varied titles, was an extremely powerful figure in the court of King Henry VIII.

He'd done just the right amount of sucking up to the notoriously egotistical monarch, which earned him a place as Lord Chancellor and Henry's right-hand man.

In some respects he was even more powerful than the sovereign, and with power, comes a palace.

In 1514 Thomas began building a fabulous riverside des res, which we know today as Hampton Court.

Cardinal Wolsey
Credited with inventing the fruit and cream combination enjoyed today

However, although he built it, Wolsey referred to his new house as the 'King's Palace' and Henry's court did indeed spend a great deal of time there.

The building's magnificent splendour outside was only matched by the opulent events that were held inside.

One thing could be guaranteed if you were a courtier enjoying a stay at Wolsey's place. You would never go hungry.

Working in the largest kitchens of Tudor England, the Hampton Court cooks were expected to feed at least 600 people, twice a day.

And since Henry VIII's court was made of around 1,200 members, you can see the attraction, for a chef, of a dessert that needs little preparation.

Especially as the kitchens were described at the time by one visitor as 'veritable hells', which must have made any dish that didn't require catching, plucking, roasting, boiling or flaying, seem like a Godsend.

And indeed to the straining stomachs of the feasting Tudors, who thought nothing of eating their way through 44 different cooked animals and birds in one sitting, the light fruit course must have been manna from Heaven.

Although, the strawberry had been around in England since the ice age, no-one had thought of teaming it with a dollop of cream before.

In fact, up until the minute someone in Wolsey's kitchen had a 'Delia Smith' moment, dairy products were considered to be peasant food by the upper classes.

Even with the aid of divine intervention, it's highly unlikely that the Cardinal was inspired to create the creamy treat himself.

But sadly the history books do not record which of his many culinary minions actually had a fruit based epiphany and brought the two ingredients together.

So Wolsey is rather unfairly, given the credit for the simple combination which is now enjoyed by millions worldwide.

And it's a fair bet that the nameless chef, toiling for hours in the heat of the Palace kitchens for Henry VIII's court, never dreamt his new concoction would still be served in court, albeit the Centre one at the Wimbledon Championships, five centuries later.




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