There’s a reason why I wouldn’t dream of doing either #veganuary or #dryjanuary – and that reason is Burns Night. A celebration of the life and poetry of Scottish icon Robert Burns, it falls on January 25th every year and Burns Suppers and other related events take place for a week or two before and after. This year, we attended three dances and also had a Burns Supper of our own at home with friends.
But what is a Burns Supper?
One of Burns’ best known poems is “Address To A Haggis” and this Scottish rustic food has a starring role in the proceedings. There’s a long standing story that the haggis is a wild creature native to the Highlands of Scotland but this is from the same department as the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus – the department of don’t believe everything you read on the internet! It’s actually a savoury suet pudding containing onion, oatmeal, spices and sheep’s pluck – i.e. all the bits of the sheep that no-one would otherwise eat. That’s lungs, heart and liver – and traditionally the stomach is used as a casing, but these days smaller or everyday haggis come in a synthetic casing. Bizarrely, both the lungs and the stomach casing are banned for food use in the USA (the land of chlorinated chicken and processed cheese) which means that Scottish haggis can’t be imported and US made haggis can’t follow the true recipe.
During a Burns Supper, the MC recites “Address To A Haggis” to the haggis and during the third verse, stabs it with a skean dhu or other knife, splitting the casing. That’s the heart of the event although there’s usually also piping, speeches, toasts and reciting of other Burns poems, and there may also be dancing.
There will almost certainly also be whisky. Lots of whisky.
Haggis is traditionally served with tatties (mashed potatoes) and neeps (mashed swede) as in the picture above. Many of the more formal events south of the border, however, serve the haggis as a garnish instead, as part of a fine dining experience like the one in the picture below with the haggis croquette.
At home, we serve our haggis with clapshot (mashed potato with swede mixed in) and – completely un-Scottish this – sauteed baby greens or cavolo nero.
This break with tradition means that the inevitable leftovers can be enhanced with some jolly nice bubble and squeak!