Sunday, January 27, 2008
Embrace the haggis
The night before last was Burn's Nicht, the annual Scottish celebration of their master bard, and satirist, Robert Burns, on which we eat haggis and recite poetry by Burns. Being slightly scots myself, on my maternal side, where according to legend a great something grandfather (last name Watson) settled in Sheffield after being left behind by a retreating Highland army and eventually begat a tribe of scotto-yorkshiremen (a fearsome and hardy combination), I generally partake of both Burn's poetry, and the infamous sausage known as haggis. We also named a Womerlippi sheepdog after the dish.
Haggis has an undeservedly bad rap. It's a very good sausage, quite tasty, not particularly unhealthy, very constitutionally fortifying, and not unlike Pennsylvania Dutch scrapple or pan hoss in construction. Haggis uses the organ meats of a sheep, combined with seasoning and toasted oatmeal. Scrapple or pan hoss uses those of a pig, with corn.
The problem with haggis might be that it's presented in an intestine, not a casing, and so looks like a bloated football with indigestion. Visibly disturbing, I admit. But it's very thrifty. And the contents are no worse in origin or they way they're handled than those of any other sausage or processed lunch meat, and much more wholesome than some quite famous brands. The Womerlippis produce sheep, and thus have a supply of offal, and haggis is sometimes a by-product.
My favorite Burn's poem is an ode to a sheep. The basic translation from the raw scots dialect is that the farmer is sad because his favorite sheep, Mailie, died. This was a guy who knew that you could farm and care about your animals at the same time. It is not known whether Mailie became haggis.
Poor Mailie's Elegy
Robert Burns, 1783
Lament in rhyme, lament in prose,
Wi' saut tears trickling down your nose;
Our bardie's fate is at a close,
Past a' remead!
The last, sad cape-stane o' his woes;
Poor Mailie's dead!
It's no the loss o' warl's gear,
That could sae bitter draw the tear,
Or mak our bardie, dowie, wear
The mourning weed:
He's lost a friend an' neebor dear
In Mailie dead.
Thro' a' the town she trotted by him;
A lang half-mile she could descry him;
Wi' kindly bleat, when she did spy him,
She ran wi' speed:
A friend mair faithfu' ne'er cam nigh him,
Than Mailie dead.
I wat she was a sheep o' sense,
An' could behave hersel' wi' mense:
I'll say't, she never brak a fence,
Thro' thievish greed.
Our bardie, lanely, keeps the spence
Sin' Mailie's dead.
Or, if he wanders up the howe,
Her living image in her yowe
Comes bleating till him, owre the knowe,
For bits o' bread;
An' down the briny pearls rowe
For Mailie dead.
She was nae get o' moorland tips,
Wi' tauted ket, an' hairy hips;
For her forbears were brought in ships,
Frae 'yont the Tweed.
A bonier fleesh ne'er cross'd the clips
Than Mailie's dead.
Wae worth the man wha first did shape
That vile, wanchancie thing-a raip!
It maks guid fellows girn an' gape,
Wi' chokin dread;
An' Robin's bonnet wave wi' crape
For Mailie dead.
O, a' ye bards on bonie Doon!
An' wha on Ayr your chanters tune!
Come, join the melancholious croon
O' Robin's reed!
His heart will never get aboon-
His Mailie's dead!