Story by Manos Angelakis
Photos by Manos Angelakis, archival portrait of Robbert Burns Library of Congress
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.
Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.
Address to a Haggis
Robert Burns, 1786
Every year on the date of his birthday, Scotland honors its national poet, Robert (Robbie) Burns (1759-1796) during what is known as a ‘Burns Night’ with a grand gastro-literary affair that includes supper, piping and very good whisky, making that date the apex of the haggis-eating season. In the past, I was invited to a Burns Night by the American Scottish Foundation of New York, and a few years ago Arran Malt invited me to a Burns Supper on January 14, ten days prior to the traditional celebration of the Burns Night which is January 24 or 25.
Everyone of Scottish descent gets dressed in their tartan finery, whose colors and design indicate their clan.
Even though I no longer have the kilt that, over 60 years ago, a love of mine had sown for me, I still enjoy a serving of haggis now and then; and I very much enjoy a dram of the “good stuff” any time I have a chance and the men with kilts are serving.
A Burns Supper, formal or informal, typically includes haggis, a Scotch single malt whisky and the recitation of Burns' “Address to a Haggis” a poem published in 1786, ten years prior to the poet’s death.
A traditional formal Supper contains a number of prescribed steps, including the Selkirk Grace (allegedly penned by Burns for the Earl of Selkirk), a Toast to the Lassies, a Toast to the Ladies, speeches, singing of “Auld Lang Syne,” and much piping.
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
Haggis is a savory pudding (sausage) containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver, and lungs) minced with onion, steel cut oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and cooked while traditionally encased in the lamb's stomach -- though nowadays it is often in an artificial casing. I consider it an acquired taste and, as far as I’m concerned, the world is divided between those who love haggis (mostly people of Scottish ancestry) and those who loathe it (mostly all others).
Greeks, Turks and other Balkans (Bulgarians, Albanians and Slavs) are usually excepted from this list of ‘others’ because they eat ‘kokoretsi’ a traditional accompaniment to spit-roasted lamb; a long skewer that has hearts, livers, kidneys, spleens, lungs and other lamb organs, plus salt and spices, all wrapped in a cleaned intestine and then roasted on the same charcoal grill the lamb is cooked in. Another ethnic group that is also excluded from the list of “others” is Ashkenazi Jews, as they are very fond of ‘kishka’ or ‘stuffed derma’ a name of Slavic origin that refers to sausages made from stuffed beef intestine with a filling made from a combination of meat and grain or, in the kosher version, matzo meal, schmaltz (liquefied chicken fat) and spices.
A bagpiper accompanies the haggis as it is ceremoniously brought into the dining area then, prompted by the master of ceremonies, the audience joins in the toast to the haggis by raising a glass of whisky and shouting: ‘To the haggis!’ The main course i.e. the haggis is served with its traditional companions, neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes).
And a great time is had by all!
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