Long ago, flocks of geese were herded to this place for sale, but the practice lapsed and on the day we attended, despite its name and history, there were just two token birds in a cage on one side of the fairground.
The small field was packed with families and colourful displays, and we felt a little as though we were bit-players in an episode of Midsomer Murders. If you’ve watched this UK murder mystery series, you’ll know that one often features and can be a pivotal part of the story-line.
This one in Ovingham had no murders though, for which we were grateful, but it did have all the quintessential elements of an English fair – Morris Dancing, dunking contests, coconut shies, donuts, chips, hoopla – and soaking rain!
Despite the latter, we did what the Brits do and just ignored the drizzle, taking shelter when it pounded down occasionally, and continued to happily squelch our way around.
Finally I found what I had hoped I would. In a far corner some ladies in spotless white mob caps were set up at a stand making singing hinnies, a traditional dish of the area. These dried fruit-studded flatbreads are delicious, and I was hooked at first bite. They have a toasty buttery flavour from contact with the pan, and sweet bursts of currants as you bite into them.
Singing Hinnies are a traditional currant griddle scone, and perhaps as a food they are not so unusual – but the name certainly is!
Evidently they were originally made long ago on flat iron griddles over open fires in all the area’s small country cottages. Children haven’t changed, and the tantalising smell would have had each mother’s many children clamouring for them.
‘Mother, when will they be ready? Can I have one now?’ one country mother was supposedly asked, so the legend goes.
’Not yet. They’re just singin’ hinnies,’ she patiently explained – hinnies being the local word for ‘honeys’, her Geordie endearment for them. By ‘singing’ she meant, of course the squeak and sizzle of the butter and cream as it melted from the batter onto the fiery plate.
These words somehow kept the waiting children quiet for the few moments until the next cake was ready to be scooped off, buttered quickly, cut into pieces and dropped into their eager hands.
So ‘singin’ hinnies’ they became – and here is how to make them from the recipe given out by those mobcapped ladies who were making them at the Ovingham Goose Fair.
NORTHUMBERLAND SINGIN’ HINNIES
If you don’t have an open fire and a griddle, make these in a heavy frypan on top of the stove. Some recipes also suggest adding sour cream to the liquids.
2 cups self-raising flour
110g currants (about 3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons milk mixed with water (more if needed)
oil or butter for the griddle
butter for spreading
Rub the fats into the flour, add salt, currants, and just enough milk and water to make a soft dough. Roll out into rounds on a floured surface and bake each one on both sides on a hot griddle until golden brown. Spread immediately with butter and cut into quarters, serving immediately.
Makes about four rounds. Double or triple the mixture depending on how many ‘hinnies’ you have!