The strawberry, one of the most popular fruits in the world, comes originally from the Americas. It’s a member of the rose family and is a unique fruit as it has seeds on the outside rather than the inside. The most common varieties are a hybrid of the wild Virginia strawberry (native to the USA) and the Chilean variety (originally from South America).
Native Americans were eating strawberries when the European settlers arrived. Often the crushed berries were mixed with cornmeal and baked into strawberry bread. After trying this bread, colonists developed their own version of the recipe which became the famous strawberry shortcake.
In the 1500s, explorers brought the fruit back to France from Virginia. The Virginian and Chilean varieties were then brought together accidentally about 250 years ago in a botanical garden in France, where a new type of strawberry was born. This is the variety we eat with such gusto in Europe today.
The strawberry was also a symbol for Venus, the goddess of love, because of its red heart shape.
The English word "strawberry" comes from the Anglo-Saxon "streoberie". The word was first spelt in the modern way around 1538.
In 1625 the British Francis Bacon described how ‘strawberry-leaves dying, yield an excellent cordial smell’, suggesting that strawberries were admired as much for their scent as their taste. It is still true that the very smell of the fruiting strawberry plant gets your mouth watering. Indeed the strawberry features in many works of fiction throughout history, including these:
The strawberry grows underneath the nettle
And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best
Neighbour'd by fruit of baser quality.
William Shakespeare, Henry V (c. 1599), Act I, scene 1, line 60.
The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!
Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.
Dr William Butler, 17th Century English Writer
In Britain many regions grow strawberries, including Kent, Devon, Cheshire, Lancashire and Scotland. But of course, the fruit grows equally well in warm and Mediterranean climates of the northern hemisphere. In Europe there are even annual strawberry festivals in the Greek towns of Paradisi and Nea Manolada, and in the French town of Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, as well as many in the US. There are also many strawberry fayres in the UK too, from community events to music festivals. In parts of Bavaria, the annual rite of tying small baskets of wild strawberries to the horns of cattle as an offering to elves is still practiced by country folk. Elves are believed to be passionate about strawberries and the offering will mean healthy calves and abundant milk.
It is impossible to mention strawberries without their mouth-wateringly perfect complement, cream. There is something quintessentially British about strawberries. An English summer wouldn’t be the same without a bowl of strawberries drizzled with cream. This delicious combination has been enjoyed for centuries, from kings to commoners. But nowhere is it more iconic than at Wimbledon, the international home of lawn tennis.
Celebrate this decadent fruit. Use our concierge service to add Wimbledon or festival tickets to your holiday itinerary or book a tour around the strawberry growing regions of the world.
The roots of May Day can be traced back at least 2,000 years. The celebration as we know it in the UK today is the result of melding Pagan, Roman and Medieval traditions.
The Celts and British Pagan Heritage
New life and fertility with the coming of summer were marked by the ancient Celts with May Poles and dancing. The May Pole is a tall pole with coloured ribbons tied to the top. Originally the pole would have been a tree cut when it reached the correct height and with the branches cut off, a powerful symbol since the Celts worshipped trees. Young men and women would each hold a ribbon and would dance weaving in and out of each other to plait the ribbons into a complex patterns. The pole signified fertility and dancing around it was supposed to bring this benefit to the dancers.
The Celts divided their year by 4 major festivals. The first day of summer was called Beltane, 'the fire of Bel'. Bel was the sun god worshipped by Celts across Continental Europe, Britain and Ireland. Beltane was celebrated with bonfires to welcome the new season. Fire was believed to cleanse, purify and increase fertility. The Celts jumped over the fire to pledge themselves to each other. Animals were driven through the smoke to protect them from diseases. At Beltane, couples went A-Maying - spending the night in the woods, fields and brought back May and hawthorn blossoms as a sign of fertility and the new season.
In England this became May Day but in Scotland the festival is still known as Beltane. In Edinburgh the spectacle now includes fire displays, drumming, processions with pipe bands and plenty of body paint.
During the 300 year long Roman occupation of Britain the Floralia was celebrated. Flora was the goddess of flowers and spring and the festival in her honour was held for 6 days at the end of April. The celebration was for everyone, not just the nobility, and was all about pleasure, fertility and flowers. The festival included games and dancing so it is easy to see where the flowers, foliage and fun elements of modern British May Day stem from.
Morris dancers are traditional folk dancers. This form of dance dates back to Medieval times. The earliest written record of a Morris dancing performance in England is from 1448 but the origins of Morris are lost in the mists of time. Morris dancing used to be confined to male performers but nowadays both men and women take part. Traditionally dressed in white with strips of bells on their legs, colourful neckerchiefs and belts across their chests, Morris dancers perform jigs, kicks, jumps and set patterns. Morris dancers have become closely associated with May Day. Performing with wooden poles and handkerchiefs, they are a wonderful sight, especially on a village green on a sunny day.
Georgian Era and After May Day Customs
Jack-in-the-Green is a May Day character first recorded in 1770. The man playing Jack is dressed in a conical wicker or wooden framework covered in foliage. The look is completed with green face paint. The character is likely to have evolved from an earlier tradition of milkmaids carrying milk pails decorated with flowers. The use of foliage and flowers firmly associates this tradition with the spring/summer season and the fertility and new life it brings. The tradition went out of favour in the 20th century but has been recently revived and the Jack-in-the-Green features in several May Day celebrations in England.
Hobby horses (or 'Obby 'Osses) feature in festivals in Padstow and Minehead. Music accompanies the wild dancing of the 'osses which are men dressed in 6ft wide wooden hoops draped in black sailcloth and wearing fearsome masks. The origins of the tradition are not known but theories abound. The 'obby 'oss is a rainmaker, a fertility symbol or a deterrent to a landing by the French, or a welcome to summer, dependent on which legend you believe.
Another local festivity in early May is the Helston Floral Festival. This centuries old tradition is most likely to stem from the anniversary of the apparition of St Michael (patron saint of the parish church in Helston) on May 8th. Heralded by an early morning ringing of the church bells, Floral Day features the Furry Dance which weaves in and out of the streets and local houses. The male dancers dress in top hats and tails and the females in beautiful, colourful dresses. Flora Day also features the Hal-an-Tow, a mummers play where St George and St Michael slay the Dragon and the Devil. The players are cheered on by a crowd dressed in Lincoln green and Elizabethan robes.
As the dawn breaks in Dorset on May 1st, Morris Men dance on the site of the old maypole above the Cerne Abbot Giant. Local folklore has long held that the huge chalk figure carved into the hillside is an aid to fertility. The dancing moves to the village square, then a well-deserved breakfast.
Queen of the May is a girl who personifies springtime and summer on May Day. Traditionally she wears white to symbolise purity and a garland or crown. In some older village traditions, there was a Lord and Lady or King and Queen of the May. This custom persists in some areas of England but the Queen of the May is everywhere seen.
Places to Celebrate in Early May
To book your holiday at any UK celebrations of May Day, get in touch with our staycation experts.
England is a beautiful, surprising, historic and wonderful place. Why go abroad when there is so much to see here? From historic castles to lush green countryside and activities galore.
Following the Brexit vote there is even more reason to stay in the UK, what with rising prices and the falling value of sterling. Get more bang for your buck in dear old Blighty on a Tasteful Travel bespoke tour. Visit extraordinary historic castles and towns, such as Hever, Canterbury, Bath and York. Get off the beaten track in the charming villages that abound in Britain.
Don't forget to introduce some foodie experiences into your trip. Drink in the atmosphere and the local brews in Kent, where not only is there the oldest brewery in England but also a multitude of vineyards and cider producers.
Choose to sample excellent local produce in West Sussex with a trip to a dairy to learn how to make cheese. Artisan producers of all types of gourmet foods abound, as do award winning vineyards. Take a trip into East Sussex and tour a quaint old brewery in Lewes.
There are so many amazing sights to see away from the obvious tourist attractions in Britain. Take a trip on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and learn the history of the longest canal tunnel in the UK at Standedge in Marsden, West Yorkshire. Taste remarkably good wines at one of the most northerly vineyards in the country, whilst you take a break from touring the breathtaking moorland scenery.
Now is the time to book your UK tour for the autumn or next spring. Whether you love sightseeing, history or eating and drinking, Great Britain is the place to go. Stay a few days, a week or more. If you need assistance to plan and book your trip get in touch with our UK experts and they will be happy to help.
A fantastic way to understand history is to see it recreated. We were lucky enough to be able to see the Medieval Jousting at Dover Castle arranged by English Heritage (EH). Before witnessing the exciting horsemanship and death defying combat, we explored the Castle's central tower. Built by Henry II, it has been lovingly reconstructed by EH with displays of furniture, food preparation and clothing to bring the Medieval period to life. No expense was spared to recreate Henry II's bed with real silk, fur and gold leaf.
Due to the event being on, English Heritage had arranged various re-enactments and displays in the King's Tower. To see just how fit you had to be to be a knight, a chainmail suit and headdress had been made out of iron, just as it would have been in the Middle Ages. I struggled to lift even the headdress it was so heavy! Having the construction method explained and displayed was fascinating and gives one a real respect for those craftsmen who toiled so long to make this chainmail. No wonder it was only the very rich who could afford it - it must have taken weeks to make just one - and iron was hugely expensive. There were displays of fire breathing and a group of 'wandering minstrels' played medieval music. Children ran around dressed as knights whilst grown ups watched EH volunteers/actors dressed as serfs and gentlefolk from the 1200s. We listened to a debate on the Magna Carta in the King's Hall including public participation. Fun for all the family.
After exploring the basement to the roof terrace of the King's Tower it was time for the Joust to being. Who would think that so much excitement could be generated by such a short gallop. The crack of the lances hitting the shield or body of the opponent could be heard well away from the Tilt Yard. The four 'knights' in full armour with horses decked out as in medieval times was a spectacular sight. The judges and other helpers looked fantastic in their costumes. They must have been boiling in their velvet on such a hot day!
All in all, a wonderful day out. If you love living history, why not request that an event like this is built into your tour or travel itinerary in the UK.
Despite the deluge on Saturday afternoon, we had a successful day at the Foodies Festival in Brighton. A group of tents, buses and a giant teapot faced the sea at Hove Lawns. Packed with everything to do with food and drink it is a gourmand's dream. Demonstrations from top chefs were mixed with wine tasting classes and stall after stall of goodies.
As we walked in our first sight was Aldo Zilli serving Italian street food to the crowd.
I also got to meet Emma Spitzer, Masterchef finalist and a personal favourite with her Middle Eastern fusion style cookery. What a thrill, she was so nice, even given my stammering explanation of needing chefs to talk about culinary history on Tasteful Travel tours. Here's hoping!
We rounded off our trip with a cup of tea, buying some gourmet sausage rolls and resisting a gorgeous bottle of wonderful Silent Pool gin. Maybe next time...
Visiting Brighton always gives us a buzz but it was made even more fun with the Foodies Festival.
Hope you can make it to your local Foodies Festival, best wishes Sarah.