Tonight is Burns Night, celebrated each year on Robert Burns’ birthday, 25 January. The first Burns Night was held back in 1801, on the fifth anniversary of his death, when a group of Burns’ friends held a dinner in his memory at Burns cottage. They ate a meal together and read his poems in a night of celebration and remembrance.
Formal Burns suppers have a piper piping in the haggis. The host will say Burns’ Selkirk Grace: “Some hae meat an canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat, and we can eat, And sae the Lord be thankit”.
We know Robbie loved haggis because he wrote an eight verse poem ‘Address to a Haggis.’
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang ‘s my arm.
Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and cooked while traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach though now often in an artificial casing.
Main ingredients: Sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, and stomach (or sausage casing), onion, oatmeal, suet, spices.
Is it delicious? YES
My first ever haggis was at a Burns’ supper when my friend and I decided to attempt skiing in Aviemore, Scotland. The skiing was a disaster – not broken bones disaster – just not successful. But we did catch a haggis. As we were staying at the Youth Hostel we had to be in by midnight so couldn’t stay to see how wild it got.
When CyberMacSpouse first took me back to his home town in The Borders I didn’t assume everyone in Scotland would be eating haggis, but the local fish and chip shop served battered haggis and chips, yummy but fattening.
In the early years if we wanted haggis we had to wait until someone was coming down to London or coming back from Scotland. It then had to be simmered for a couple of hours in the pressure cooker base ( the only saucepan large enough ) and in our cold flat condensation would be streaming down the kitchen walls – actually, all the walls.
Nowadays cooking a haggis meal is much simpler, pre-cooked versions are probably available all year round in your supermarket or butchers’ and you can get a sachet of whiskey cream sauce to go with it. Unceremoniously chop it in pieces and put in the microwave. Potatoes are already on the boil as are the neeps, which in England is a swede, but called turnip in Scotland. Lots of mashing with butter and ground black pepper and it’s ready. You can also get vegetarian haggis, which rather defeats the object of it being a poor man’s meal using left overs of sheep!
We always buy Macsween – this is not an advertisement, I’m just telling you what we eat and I have to say our homemade meal is better than some we have had out. Worst meal was in a small northern Scottish town that shall remain nameless. We thought to support local business rather than slipping into Wetherspoons and dropped into Morag’s Café. Lumpy mashed potato and dried up haggis. Our most unusual haggis meal was delicious, found in a pub on the Isle of Skye – Haggis Strudel – I guess that will be off the menu when we leave the European Union next week. Wetherspoons let me down this week when we needed a quick dinner before going to the theatre. They had a special haggis menu; I don’t know what the haggis burger was like, but my traditional small portion had potatoes that looked like they had just had a bit of a rough and tumble, rather than mashed to creamy smoothness.
Carrying on family tradition Team H are having a Burns’ Supper and apparently the four year old is going to recite Address to a Haggis as a surprise for his father. Perhaps he is cheating and learning an abridged English version.
Have you had haggis, do you like it?