Friday, 25 January 2013

Burns Night

This evening tens of thousands of Scots, all over the world, will be reciting a poem to a sheep’s stomach stuffed with meat, offal, onions and oatmeal and toasting it with whisky. Put that way it sounds a little eccentric but then ceremony and food have always gone hand in hand. Think of the tradition of cutting the wedding cake, the annual tomato throwing festival near Valencia in Spain or the custom of making food offerings at Eastern temples. Every culture in the world has it’s own food based rituals.

The origins of these rituals go back hundreds, if not thousands of years and the reverence of the haggis on Burns Night is no exception. But where did the haggis itself come from? The answer is no one seems to know for sure. Some claim it is Scandinavian, others Roman and even Lancastrian. The myth I love the most is that a haggis is actually a wild animal that runs free around the Highlands. Apparently, quite a lot of American tourists believe this tale. There are even annual haggis hurling competitions.

A 'wild' haggis!

One thing most people do seem to agree on is that the haggis was a way of preparing and eating the parts of the beast most likely to go off first. Wherever it comes from the haggis is a delight to eat.

Burns Night is held every 25th January to celebrate the life and works of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns and was established by his friends after his death.

If you ever get chance to go to a Burns Night dinner than grab it with both hands. It is a spectacle to behold. The haggis is accompanied in to the room by its chef and a piper then presented to the top table. Whereupon the host of the evening rises and recites the ‘Address To A Haggis’ written by Burns. At the point in the poem that goes,
'An cut you up wi' ready slight,' the host will plunge a knife in to the haggis and split it end to end. Once the poem is finished the assembled guests will rise and make a toast.Tradition has it that the haggis is then served with Neeps, (crushed turnips or swedes as the are referred to in England), Tatties, (mashed potatoes) and often a whisky sauce. Followed by a traditional Scottish pudding such as Clootie Dumpling or Cranachan.

Pic from Food4
After the food there are toasts, recitations, music, dancing and of course lots of whisky. Bliss!
Purveyors of the finest Scottish haggis include most supermarkets plus some independent retailers . They can also be bought over the internet direct from manufacturers such as McLays or through Scottish food specialists such as, who stock Macsweens haggis and ship worldwide. They even stock tinned and vegetarian haggis.

Many people are squeamish about tasting offal but I would say you don’t know what you’re missing. It is cheap, tasty and will definitely put hairs on your sporran.

Recipe for Neeps - serves 4
250g/9oz swede, diced
100g/3 ½ oz unsalted butter
1 tbsp double cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grating of fresh nutmeg
1. Put a saucepan of salted water on to boil and peel and dice the swede.
2. Add the swede once the water is boiling, lower heat to a simmer and allow to cooked for around 20 minutes or until tender.
3. Drain the swede and return to the pan.
4. Mash with the butter, cream, nutmeg and seasonings.
5 Serve warm with your haggis and Tatties.
The nutmeg isn’t a traditional ingredient but it goes so well that it a is a worthy addition. I also mash swede with carrot, butter and nutmeg to accompany the Sunday roast.
Why not have your own Burns Night at home tonight?

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