“a man before a great blazing fire turning swiftly this way and that a stomach full of
fat and blood, very eager to have it roasted quickly”.
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 wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm.
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
-Robert Burns, “Address to a Haggis”
Robert Burns (1759-1796), the celebrated Scottish bard was an uncouth rustic, a drunkard and a notorious philanderer, but like all great men he also had his share of character flaws. Not the least of these was his inclination to immortalize in verse one of the more egregious delicacies of his native highlands.
Haggis is an ancient dish, it’s origins fogged by the mists of time, its components of questionable edibility. Homer’s “Odyssey”, which dates to the eighth century BC refers to a primitive culinary contrivance that sounds suspiciously like haggis – “a stomach full of fat and blood…roasted quickly”, which argues for a Greco-Roman origin. The dish also bears a passing resemblance to certain Scandinavian cuisine, leading some scholars to hypothesize that the Norsemen brought it with them when they overran Britain (adding insult to injury). Whatever its mode of arrival, haggis made its way to the Scottish highlands and stayed there, becoming beloved in the hearts and stomachs of Scotsmen.
Haggis is traditionally served on Nov. 30, St. Andrews day and again on January 25, the birthday of Robert Burns. It is customarily served up with a dram – or several – of Scotch whiskey, which no doubts adds greatly to the relish of the occasion. In fact, there are those who claim it is essential to consume the drams before the haggis is served, as this helps to overlook the details of what is being consumed.
And what, you ask, is this haggis? Well, since you asked….haggis is sort of a giant sausage made of sheep pluck, mutton suet, oatmeal, spices, stuffed into a sheep’s rumen(or an ox bung, if the rumen is unavailable) boiled for several hours then opened and eaten with great relish. For the uninitiated, “pluck” is the heart, liver and lungs. A rumen is the fourth stomach of the sheep; ox bung is pretty much what it sounds like. OK,OK, a “bung” is the last yard of so of a cow’s large intestine, washed and salted. These rather special items can usually be obtained by request from a butcher shop. One is well-advised to tip the butcher generously as this may make him think twice before reporting you to the authorities as a suspicious character.
For those hardy hearty souls who after reading this far may still wish to try their hand at making and serving haggis, a simple recipe follows. After all, St. Andrew’s Day is nigh, and Bobbie Burns day will be here soon.
Pluck from one sheep
1/2 lb. minced lamb or mutton
1/2 lb. suet, minced
1/2 lb. coarse-ground oatmeal, toasted
3 onions, copped
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper, coriander, mace, nutmeg to taste (about 1 tsp.ea.)
Wash pluck, place in large pan with minced lamb, cover with water, boil 1-1/2 hrs. Skimming broth occasionally.
Drain off broth, set aside. Mince pluck.
In a large bowel combine meat, suet, oatmeal, onions and spices. Moisten well with broth until mixture is sticky.
Spoon mixture into rumen or bung, until about 2/3 full. Tie or sew closed with butcher’s string.
Lower haggis into pot of boiling water, boil 2-3 hrs. depending on size. Casing will
contract, mixture will expand. Prick with fork or skewer to relieve pressure.
Serve piping hot, cutting casing and spooning out mixture. Or, haggis may be cooled, then sliced and fried.
Important serving note: For a traditional Scottish repast, serve with neaps and tatties. Don’t forget the drams!
And remember to make the first toast to the immortal memory of Robert Burns.