Lets Celebrate The Haggis

With Burns Night coming up on 25th January, we turn our thoughts to Burns Night fare traditional and modern.  Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish, with which food writers have had a lot of fun over the years. And so will we.

A typical Burns Night supper would start with cock a leekie soup, then haggis, bashed neeps and chappit tatties. The haggis must be piped in and then Burns’ immortal poem, the “Address to a Haggis” is recited:

There are several haggis recipes but they all involve the following ingredients: sheep’s offal (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt. These are encased in a ‘sack’ of the animal’s stomach and then boiled. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather than an actual stomach. There are also meat-free recipes for vegetarians, using lentils or kidney beans or something similar.

Some people find haggis rather spicy so to tone it down, you can add a creamy sauce such as a whisky and mustard sauce. And if you’re a vegaphobe, try mashing carrots and turnips together with a knob of butter or margerine – most people will eat carrots and you can hide the turnip in the mash. Alternatively, why not slice the turnip into slivers and quickly deep fry it for a minute or two to make ‘chips’. This works for both turnips and parsnips. There is no other way to eat potatoes on Burns Night than mashed but a little grated cheese through the mash also makes it tasty.

That said, your meal is best finished off with either cranachan (made from either crowdie cheese or whipped cream, whisky, honey, and fresh raspberries topped with toasted oatmeal) or cheese and oatcakes – and a dram, if you haven’t already indulged. Why not try some of the regional cheeses Scotland has to offer, such as cheddar from the islands of Bute, Arran, Mull, Gigha and Orkney or the soft curd cheese Crowdie. Gruth Dhu (or Black Crowdie) is rolled in toasted pinhead oatmeal and black peppercorns.

Whilst whisky is the drink of choice at a Burns Supper, Warren Edwardes of Wine for Spice notes that haggis is spicy and therefore recommends refreshing semi-sparkling wines to drink with haggis.

Haggis-maker MacSween conducted a taste-test which confirmed that whisky is a proper accompaniment, and adds that lighter-bodied, tannic red wines, such as those made from the Barbera grape, are also suitable, as are strong, powerfully flavoured Belgian beers, such as Duvel and Chimay Blue.

There is actually little evidence to suggest haggis is a Scottish invention. A kind of primitive haggis is referred to in Homer’s Odyssey but it is also thought to have come from Scandinavia.  In any case, even if the Scots didn’t invent haggis it is exactly the kind of dish they should have invented as it is utilises much of the less popular and therefore cheaper parts of an animal which survives in even remote parts of the country. Nothing is wasted.

Everyone knows the myth that the haggis is a shy, wild creature with two legs longer than the other to enable it to scamper comfortably round hillsides. The best way to capture a haggis involves ‘turning’ the haggis so that it is forced to run the wrong way round the hill, thereby losing its balance and falling over. This myth has become so popular that, according to one study, 33% of American visitors to Scotland believe it.

When in season, it is a popular dish throughout Scotland and increasingly so around the world. Haggis is also used in a sport called haggis hurling, throwing a haggis as far as possible. The present Guinness World Record for Haggis Hurling is held by Alan Pettigrew, who threw a 1.5 lb Haggis an astonishing 180 feet, 10 inches on the island of Inchmurrin, Loch Lomond, in August 1984. We are not sure whether the haggis was alive or dead at the time.

So for 2009, the year of Homecoming, why not celebrate this ‘chieftain o’ the puddin-race’ by joining one of the many Burns Suppers, traditional or contemporary, held the world over – or better still, hold your own! To find out how see ‘How to host a supper’


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Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

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