meaning and origin of ‘strawberry preacher’

In A notable Sermō of yᵉ reuerende father Maister Hughe Latemer, whiche he preached in yᵉ Shrouds at paules churche in Londō, on the .xviii. daye of January. 1548., Hugh Latimer (circa 1485-1555), English Protestant prelate and martyr, criticised the members of the clergy who did not reside in the places required by their official duties and only visited them once a year:

The preachyng of the woorde of God vnto the people is called meat*. Scripture calleth it meat. Not strawberies, that come but once a yeare and tarye not longe, but are sone gone: but it is meat. It is no deynties. The people muste haue meate that muste be familier and cōtinuall, and dayly geuē vnto them to fede vpon. Manye make a strauberye of it, ministrynge it but once a yeare,  but suche do not thoffice of good prelates.

* Here, meat has its original sense of food in general, anything used as nourishment, solid food as opposed to drink. This original sense survives in sweetmeat. It also survives in the phrases one’s man meat is another man’s poison, meaning things liked or enjoyed by one person may be distasteful to another, and in be meat and drink to, meaning be a source of great pleasure to. Similarly, the French word viande, which translates meat, used to designate food in general. It is from Latin vivenda, that which is used for life, a form of the verb vivere, to live. French viande is the origin of the archaic English word viand, viands, which means an item of food.

The phrase strawberry preacher soon became proverbial. In a sermon preached at St Paul’s Cross on 13th January 1566, a Bachelor of Divinity named Oxenbridge said:

(modernised spelling)
I will show you the state and condition of this my mother Oxford; for a piteous case it is, that now in all Oxford there is not past five or six preachers, I except strawberry preachers.

In The avthoritie of the Chvrch in making canons and constitutions concerning things indifferent and the obedience thereto required: with particular application to the present estate of the Church of England (1607), Francis Mason (1566?-1621), Church of England clergyman and religious controversialist, wrote the following:

Sermons heeretofore in some places haue beene verie rare and daintie, insomuch that father Latymer in his time compared them to strawberies, which came but once a yeere. Wherefore that in stead of strawberie Sermons there might bee a more plentifull prouision in the house of God, our Church hath decreed, that if the Ministers residing vpon their benefices be Preachers not lawfully hindered, they shall preach euery Sabbath, and if they be no Preachers, they shall procure monthly Sermons.

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