LONDON: Strawberries and cream are just as much part of the Wimbledon experience as tennis in pristine whites on the lush green lawns of the All England Club.
But this year the courts are empty and there is no clink of cutlery on plates in the rarefied surroundings of the London venue.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the tournament, with the men’s and women’s singles finals having been originally scheduled for this weekend.
The 30 tons of strawberries usually consumed at Wimbledon — picked on the morning of each day’s play — have not gone to waste.
Hugh Lowe Farms in nearby Kent has been the sole supplier for the championships for the past 27 years.
A portion of a minimum of 10 strawberries cost £2.50 ($3.10) last year.
But the team, including star picker Katya Busheva, has not been kicking its heels because there has been no tennis.
“The days of the English strawberry season that you blink and miss it have gone many years ago,” Marion Regan, owner of Hugh Lowe Farms, told AFP.
“The strawberry season runs from April until November and we have a glasshouse for each end of the season.
“Wimbledon and strawberries are so closely associated with the summer and I cannot stress more how important the 30 tons in two weeks (they sell 5,000 tons a year) is to us.”
Regan, whose family farm has been producing strawberries since Victorian times, said the “quintessential English fruit” has the ability to transform people’s moods.
“One of the people who works in the events team told me they (Wimbledon) are preparing strawberries for key workers.
“We have also supplied local schools who stayed open for children of key workers and one or two food bank arrangements supporting vulnerable families.
“Eating strawberries brings a smile to people’s faces — we are trying to make as many people smile as possible.”
Regan, whose daughter is the fifth generation of the family to become involved in the business, says she is enjoying a different type of sporting action.
“Katya is here for her eighth season from Bulgaria and averages 50 kilos in an hour,” she said.
“I see parallels between the pickers and athletes. Efficient and good strawberry pickers do treat it like a sport.”