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
-from “Address to a Haggis” by Robert Burns
Guest Post by Helen McIver
But for the Burns Suppers, the haggis might never have made it into the 19th century, let alone survived fast-food. We still eat the same pudding which inspired Robert Burns, Scotland’s much loved National Poet, to write his “Address to a Haggis” in the autumn of 1786. He was invited to attend an annual harvest supper at the house of Mr. Andrew Bruce, merchant, Castlehill, at which the sheep’s haggis was traditionally eaten. He wrote the poem in advance, although everyone believed it extempore.
Why haggis? Through dark history the haggis appears to have found its way to Scotland via Ancient Greece, Rome, France, and England with numerous recipes in many old languages. But it is the celebratory note of Burns that honours something that has little if any gastronomic appeal. Do not judge by appearances, he says. Honour the honest virtues of sense and worth not in French haute cuisine, but in a more democratic dish that makes the least attractive parts of an animal into something worth celebrating.
Though the method has remained constant over centuries, the ingredients have varied. Fifteenth century recipes used liver and blood of sheep, while in the latter 17th century there was a meatless haggis pudding in a sheep’s paunch (parsley, savoury, thyme, onions, beef suet, oatmeal, cloves, mace, pepper and salt, sewn up and boiled; served with a hole cut in the top and filled with butter melted with two eggs). Another recipe uses a calf’s paunch and entrails minced together with grated bread, yolks of eggs, cream, spices, dried fruits and herbs, served as a sweet with sugar and almonds. Generally there is such competition among haggis-makers that most maintain the secrecy and are unwilling to divulge the details of their recipes.
The ‘best’ claim that it must be made from the proper ‘pluck’—that is lights of the sheep, which makes the best flavour—and coarse pinhead oatmeal, which gives the best texture. In 1984, Macsween’s (the Edinburgh Butcher) was challenged by Scottish poet Tessa Ransford to make a vegetarian haggis for the Burns supper opening of the Scottish Poetry Library. The butcher developed a recipe with kidney beans and nuts and received an enthusiastic response. And yes, in response to Mayo Cardiologists, heart healthy haggis has been developed (olive oil and turkey!).
In the two centuries since Burns’ death, a worldwide cult has developed, founded on the poet’s appeal. There may be greater poets, but none have surpassed Burns in touching the spirit which bonds people of all nations and station. For Scots he is among a handful that have written in their own tongue, from the heart, which adds nostalgia to Burns Suppers (and confusion to non-natives). Scotland and England had formally joined in 1707; the genteel members of Scottish society were ignoring centuries of Scottish culture and tradition. Burns, a master satirist and profoundly patriotic Scot, detested pretension and took the English/Union to pieces in poems. The “Address to the Haggis”, like much of his poetry, is democratic, patriotic, atmospheric, and entirely suitable for declaiming in a loud voice.
The Söntés Burns Dinner will be held on February 2nd at 6pm. Tickets are $75 per person, and include a 7-course meal and whisky flight. Spots are limited, so call for tickets soon at 507.292.1628.
Oh? And whisky? Here’s a list of what we’ll be serving, courtesy of Andy’s Liquor. In addition, those who attend the dinner are eligible to receive a special discount on the purchase of these whiskies from Andy’s after the event.
Burns Dinner Whisky Flight
Speyburn 10 year
MacCallan 12 year
Balvenie 15 year
Glenfidditch 18 year
Laphroaig Quarter Cask