For the first twenty-two years of my life, when I grew up in India, I don’t recall having seen a strawberry let alone having tasted a fresh one. But, precisely at this time of the year, and almost every year, when Wimbledon was on TV, I thought about strawberries, visualized them, and wondered how they tasted.
In America, strawberries were one of the first fruits I looked forward to tasting. However, not all of them tasted the same, only some out of the big box from the grocery store seemed to live up to the imagined memories of past. Strawberries are delicate especially when they are ripe so much so one does not stack them too much lest they get bruised. The need to transport them long distances likely resulted in varieties of strawberries that were firmer, and somewhat less flavorful, compounded by the fact that not all may have been fully ripe when picked.
I remember walking through strawberry fields for the first time hoping to see rows upon rows of bright, red berries only to find out that one had to wade through the leaves to get to the hidden berries. They didn’t seem to like the sunlight too much and when I did get to the berries, not all of them were bright red and ripe to be picked.
Ripe strawberries taste different from unripe or not fully ripe ones about as much as small wild strawberries taste different from some of the larger varieties, a fact that is reflected in the selling price of these berries at some markets.
Transported in short stacks to prevent bruising, ripe strawberries don’t have a long shelf-life either.
The strawberries that arrive at Wimbledon village come from within an hours drive from nearby Kent, picked fresh the day before (or, early on the day of as is reported this year), arriving at 5:30 in the morning each day they are sold to be inspected before they are hulled and served in measures of punnets - one punnet being no less than ten berries – along with, as is always the custom, double cream1. I can’t think of events that have celebrated the freshness of a fruit for as long as Wimbledon has in a way where clearly, the tradition seems to have had an influence even in parts of the world where boys don't grow up eating strawberries.