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Hearty comfort food reigns supreme in Northumberland, with dishes that make the most of local produce like crab and oysters, smoked kippers, premium grass-fed lamb and beef, and full-fat dairy ice cream. If you haven’t been to this part of the northeast before, you probably won’t have a clue what pan haggerty or singin' hinnies are. With names that sound like something from a children’s tale, the cuisine here is truly specific to the region. We demystify these dishes and more in our guide to good Geordie food.
This smoked fish delicacy is produced in the seaside villages of Craster and Seahouses where the Swallowfish and L Robson & Sons smokehouses prepare them in the traditional way using curing sheds and secret recipes a century old. Craster Kippers are exported to food lovers across the globe and are alleged to be popular with the Royal Family. You can pick them up at Swallowfish deli in Seahouses or try them at L Robson’s restaurant in Craster. A breakfast favourite, the best way to eat smoked kippers is simple – served up with hunks of buttered brown bread.
A singin’ hinny is a type of scone cooked on a hot griddle pan. Baking powder is added as a raising agent to a mixture of flour, butter, lard, currants, salt and milk. As the mix cooks on the hot griddle, the fatty ingredients melt causing a hissing noise – as if the scones are singing. Hinny is simply a term of affection in Northumberland, proof of just how beloved this humble little scone is.
Earl Grey tea
Northumberland has a great heritage when it comes to tea. Earl Grey was specially blended there by a Chinese mandarin for Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey and British Prime Minister (1830-1834). Bergamot was used to offset the taste of lime in the water at Howick Hall on the Northumberland coast, the Earl’s family seat. Head to Howick Hall Gardens & Arboretum for a unique tea experience and sip a cup of this revered brew in the elegant Earl Grey Tea House.
Doddington Dairy ice cream
The award-winning Doddington Dairy ice-cream contains only simple, quality ingredients like fresh, full cream milk and double cream from their cows at Doddington Dairy Farm. Where possible, they source Northumbrian flavours, such as Alnwick Rum and honeycomb from Chainbridge Honey Farm near Berwick-upon-Tweed. You’ll find it's a firm favourite on menus across the county, and stocked in most farm shops.
Ham & pease pudding stotties
A ‘stotty’ is a large, round flatbread with an indent in the centre. Though leavened, it is a dense loaf with a heavy texture. If you drop one, it should bounce or ‘stott’, hence the name. Traditionally, stotties are halved and filled to make a huge sandwich. A local favourite is ham with pease pudding – a smooth, spreadable paste made from split peas boiled alongside a joint of ham. The northeast's version of Marmite, you’ll either love it or hate it. Walwick Hall (above) provide a Northumbrian twist on the classic afternoon tea featuring ham and pease pudding stotties instead of finger sandwiches.
Scotts of Ponteland
Eighth generation grassland farmers Tim and Jack Oliver have large pedigree herds of traditional Galloway cattle and sheep. These are reared on ridge and furrow grass for three years on their farms at Great Whittington and Haltwhistle. The Galloway breeds are characteristically high in omega-3 which, together with being grass-fed, makes the meat top quality. The farms supply their own butcher shop Scotts of Ponteland, providing 100% traceability on both lamb and beef from hilltop to tabletop.
This famous Northumbrian dish is an English spin on the French classic dauphinoise potatoes, made with thinly sliced tatties, fried onions and mature cheddar cheese. Though it's lovely on its own as a winter warmer, this filling dish is often used as a side to the wonderful local hill lamb or locally-caught fish. If you cannot wait until winter, try it for breakfast with crispy bacon and a fried egg.
The Northumberland Cheese Company have been making award-winning farmhouse cheeses since 1984. Beginning with the ewe’s milk cheese Redesdale, they now have 17 artisan varieities. Many of the cheeses are named after somewhere or something in Northumberland, such as Kielder, Cheviot, Northumberlandia and Hadrian. Their philosophy is simple: from cow’s milk on their own farm to the Jersey milk supplied from down the road, every bit of cheese should be traced back to the milk of a single dairy herd. A dairy tour or cheese-making day is a must for fans of fromage and you can sample the produce at the on-site Cheese Loft Cafe.
Dubbed ‘the nectar of the gods’, Lindisfarne mead is a fortified honey wine blended with locally drawn water, fermented grape juice, herbs and spirits. It's said to have links to the mead made by monks who once lived on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumberland. The label design is taken from illustrations found in the Lindisfarne Gospels written by monks in the Priory on Holy Island in the early 8th century. Made exclusively at St Aidan's Winery, the showroom on Holy Island is a great place for tasting before taking a bottle home with you.
With a coastline that spans almost 100 miles, seafood is a huge part of Northumbrian food heritage. From sustainably caught turbot to Lindisfarne oysters, the fruits of the sea appear on most local menus. A fresh crab sandwich is a must. Watch ‘the crab man’ deliver his pots to The Ship Inn at Low Newton, then wash your sandwich down with beer from their microbrewery. The Northumberland Seafood Centre in Amble champions sustainable fishing and local fishermen, selling a variety of lesser-bought fish and seafood according to the seasons. The Lobster Hatchery aims to boost the local lobster population, ensuring Northumberland is a seafood destination for years to come.
Classically trained Steven Murray is Head Chef at Walwick Hall Hotel, Spa & Dining Room. His seasonal menus offer traditional dishes with a twist, using ingredients from the Northumbrian larder.
For further information on travelling in Northumberland, go to visitnorthumberland.com.
If you enjoyed this taste of the northeast, see Tony Naylor's guide to the best places to eat in Newcastle.
Visit our travel section for more food inspiration from across the British Isles, Europe and beyond.
Photo credits: National Trust, Visit Northumberland, Doddington Dairy, Northumberland Cheese Company Elsdon, Northumberland Seafood Centre