If you’re Scottish and it’s the 25th day of January, then dinner tonight is haggis.
Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns was born in Ayrshire on January 25, 1759 so this year’s Burns Night Suppers are going to be extra special as they are celebrating his 250th birthday. His poem “Address to a Haggis” pays tribute to a unique and symbolic part of Scottish identity and culture.
What is a Haggis?
The squeamish may like to look away at this point. Basically, a sheep’s lungs, heart and liver are boiled for a couple of hours they are then minced up and mixed with oatmeal, onion and seasonings. A sheep’s stomach is cleaned, ready for this mixture to be spooned into and it is then sewn up and boiled for three hours. Although nowadays a synthetic skin is often used instead of the stomach. There is also a vegetarian haggis, for those with a more delicate stomach, made up of beans, lentils, nuts and mushrooms. A traditional haggis is very much like a shepherd’s pie filling only with more spice and an oaty flavor.
A traditional Burns supper begins with the Selkirk Grace being recited. The bagpipes are started up and a piper leads in the chef proudly carrying the haggis. Someone recites Burns’ “Address to a Haggis” where at the line “an cut you up wi ready slight” the haggis is pierced to loud applause. The haggis is toasted with a glass of whiskey and the evening proceeds with speeches about Robert Burns and various other toasts. The meal often starts with a traditionally Scottish Cock a Leekie soup, haggis is then served with Champit Tatties (mashed potato) and Bashed Neaps (mashed rutabaga). A Scottish dessert of Crannachan may then be served which is made from raspberries, oatmeal and cream.
The minced meat of the haggis can be used in a variety of ways, for example canapés, pakoras, lasagna or pies. In fact just about anywhere minced meat is called for in a recipe, haggis can be used in its stead for an instantly Scottish dish.
The US FDA states that sheep’s lungs are unfit for human consumption, although the Scottish population doesn’t appear to have been affected by eating haggis for hundreds of years. So the US version commonly uses beef liver, heart, and lamb meat. Try Caledoniankitchen.com.
There is a story told that a “Haggis” is a small furry animal that lives in the remote Scottish Highlands and has developed one set of legs shorter than the other so that it doesn’t fall over on the steep hillsides. One study of American visitors to Scotland found that 33% believed that this little mammal existed. So if you’re ever in those parts don’t be fooled into joining “ A Wild Haggis Hunt”, just track down an authentic haggis and tuck in.
Photos with thanks to Pille - nami nami, Janet is really cool, goobertron and W9Jim on Flckr.