Wednesday 26 January 2011

Burn's Night

a stabbed haggis;
Yesterday, 25 January was Robert Burns' birthday-- hence Burn's Night when Scots traditionally eat a haggis supper; haggis, tatties and neeps washed down with good quantities of malt whisky.

The haggis is brought to the table with great ceremony to the tune of bagpipes; and is then 'addressed' by a gentleman who reads Robbie Burns' poem 'To a Haggis' and finishes by stabbing it with a Skean Dhu (ceremonial dagger). If you want to find out more about the poems of Robbie Burns, or hear them read visit the BBC's website  
At a later point during the dinner it is traditional for a different gentleman to give an address 'to the lassies' (a speech to the ladies). There is no corresponding 'address to the laddies'.

For those of you who have no idea what haggis is; well it won't win any awards for the best looking dish but when done right it is a very tasty dish indeed. Traditionally, if you live in Edinburgh one of 'the' places to buy your haggis is from MacSween's butchers.

Haggis; photo from
What's in it? Scare stories abound of haggis and, yes originally it was a recipe which used up bits of the animal which would otherwise go to waste and so contained "pluck": lungs, liver and heart.  However, today a haggis is much more likely to contain lamb shoulder and kidneys and beef liver as well as the traditional oatmeal, herbs and spices. In the UK haggis is made with suet (hard beef fat) but due to BSE this is no longer allowed for export, so for the EU lamb fat is used instead. The bit that continues to make many people go "eeeeuuuuw" is that the whole is cooked in a sheep's stomach. A well cleaned out stomach I hasten to add. Premium sausages are cased in intestines and nobody goes "eeuuw" --well not too often--  about that. In the land of andouillettes (tripe sausage) and boudin noir et blanc I doubt haggis ingredients will raise much of an eyebrow.

When we first lived in the Netherlands internet shopping was still in it's infancy and getting hold of haggis for a Burns Night Supper was a challenge--we found one Scottish restaurant which made its own and sold to order. Now such things have become so easy. A quick internet search revealed serval options for getting haggis delivered. We are still finding our feet; but we'll see for next year....


ladybird said...

A few years ago my Scottish upstairs neighbours invited me over to celebrate Burn's night with them. The only requirement was that I should wear something tartan. It was the first and only time in my life that I have eaten haggis. To my surprise it was ... excellent!

Niall & Antoinette said...

I took some real persuading the first time I had haggis--I don't like steak & kidney pie for example. (not keen on kidneys)But like you found it excellent :-) The only caveat is you really do need to get it from a good butcher otherwise it tastes just like poor pate de fois heated up!

Jean said...

I regularly used to buy a small haggis from Lewis's when I lived in Leeds and they were wonderful. But the best I ever had was in a pub at the top end of Glen Coe, served with tatties and neeps. We were on a self-catering holiday and didn't need to eat for a whole day afterwards !!

GaynorB said...

The taste of a good haggis is fine, but it's best I don't think too much about the ingredients!
The first time I was taken to meet my future in-laws, I was presented with kidneys on toast for supper. How I managed to eat them I will never know!
I guess my husband must have said something to his Mum, because she didn't ever serve them to me again

Niall & Antoinette said...

GaynorB: well done you! I'm not sure I could have managed.
One of the 1st times Niall met my parents my dad decided to do a large T-bone steak as a special treat. Family rules say the only way to cook it is on the BBQ so Niall was treated to his future father in law getting his coat on and announcing he was just off down the garden to cook the steak... it was winter at the time! Niall told me later that he did wonder if my family was just slightly mad

Tim said...

It is shut-up and eat it food.... and a McSween does contain the bits [except the lungs... health issues] that other haggi-makers leave out... but they also make a VEGETARIAN one! The Health Food shop in Headingley sells them... they are just a nut-roast in a plastic bag.... but being MacSween probably taste great!
Jean, the stall at the bottom end of the meat row on Leeds market used to get his from a place in the Highlands... probably closer to the one that you had in Glen Coe!