Saturday, January 25, 2014

Fear the haggis

January 25th is Burn's Nicht, the Scottish celebration of their national poet.

(It's also my father-in-law's birthday -- happy birthday, Dick!)

Burn's Nicht involves several rituals, beginning with the cooking of a haggis. Mine came all the way from Glasgow, or Glasgae as it's more properly pronounced, so it was a proper Scottish haggis. In past years I've made my own with our own lamb offal, but the smell of offal is awful, so I was glad to get my hands on a real haggis for once.

Once you've cooked your haggis, as well as bashed potatoes and turnips, otherwise known as haggis, neeps and tatties, the full Burn's Dinner, you might pour a dram of the good stuff to celebrate. I happened to have just such a dram saved up, from a bottle of Bowmore I bought years and years ago. I'm not a big whisky drinker (unlike my father, who loved the stuff).

Reciting the Address to a Haggis wouldn't go amiss, but I only have the first few stanzas memorized. I settled for reciting what I could remember, and then digging in.

I didn't ceremonially "pipe in" the haggis, either. My bagpipes are wonky and I can't play them well in any case.

Where was Aimee while all this was going on? Upstairs, working out on her exercise machine. She's not a fan of haggis, or Robert Burns.

Shame! Who wouldn't love a poet as down-to-earth, or as funny? Of course, it helps if you can understand some of the auld Scots dialect (below).

Haggis is also an ecologically valuable food. It probably evolved in the very distant British past, along with black pudding, haslet, and other classic savory "puddings,"as a way to use up, and dress up, the otherwise unwanted or less appetizing bits of a livestock animal. Once markets became more available, the muscle meat could be sold on for cash or barter, while the farmer or farmer's wife could keep the offal and make haggis.

The American parallel is scrapple. The common denominator is a grain filler to stretch the meat and soak up the meat juices. Where haggis uses sheep offal and oats, scrapple uses pig offal and corn, but otherwise, it's the same recipe.

People ate lots of this kind of stuff in Sheffield where I grew up. Yorkshire is famous for black pudding. Our family didn't eat black pudding -- mum and dad didn't like it -- but I learned to like it later, when I was in the service. You could get it for breakfast with eggs and bacon at the twenty-four hour lorry driver's cafe (truck stop) in Leeming Bar, a favorite haunt after the local pubs had closed at night. I did eat haslet as a kid, usually as a lunch meat. Later, when I lived in Scotland I'd often get haggis and chips at the fish and chip shop.

Very thrifty, and tasty too.

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis

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