25 January 2013

What is Scottish and burns in the night?


Before I met my husband, I met a Scotsman.  And his French-American wife.  And their Argentinian friend.  They stayed in my remote ranch house, 50 miles from anything, in the midst of  late winter.  There was snow, though not much.  There was wind - too much. There was laughter, along with good food, and new friendships in the making.

The "cottage", fireplace and all.  Picturesque, yes.  Freezing in the winter?  Yes!

Months passed.  I met my now-husband, and learned he also knew said Scotsman, sa femme (his wife), and Argentine friend.  Eventually, my beau moved into the room vacated by the Argentinian gal, joining Scotsman and femme in a former dairy barn repurposed as a Bavarian cottage.

Ingredients for a feast
Credit: Magnus McCaffery, 2012

In that cottage-barn, during the darkness and chill of the following winter, an ornery rooster and a rangy old sheep became a feast.  Scotsman and femme introduced a great gathering to the mysterious rituals of haggis, neeps and tatties, and cock-a-leekie soup.


If you've never had haggis, try it.  You'll never forget it.  Though, I don't recommend it as leftovers, which is the only version I've enjoyed.  Evidently, haggis - a sheep's stomach stuffed with offal, herbs, and whatnot - has been in cookbooks since the 1400s.  Some food historians suggest it dates at least as far back as 8th-century B.C., and others think perhaps even earlier.

Haggis from scratch, chez McCaffery
Credit: Magnus McCaffery, 2012

If one tastes haggis outside Scotland, it is likely a special occasion.  Haggis is Scotland's national dish, and there's a night reserved for it.  Tonight's the night - January 25th.  Burns Night.  

Haggis shares the stage on these evenings with 18th-century Scottish poet and cultural icon Robert Burns.  Burns was born 25 January 1759, and friends and countrymen have remembered him for more than two centuries.  Since 1802, Burns Night or Burns supper has been an opportunity to celebrate his poetry, and the humor and Scottish culinary traditions which were his source of inspiration.  There is a proscribed formula to the evening, including the reading of specific Burns poems, ceremonial toasts, and even a procession to bring in the haggis.

Soda bread - a cinch to make, much harder to stop eating.
Slather with butter, load up with sharp cheese, or spoon on some jam.

There will be such a party in countless homes, halls, and hearts tonight.  If you can't stomach the thought of haggis, try cock-a-leekie soup, neeps and tatties, or this soda bread.  We made the soda bread this week for a Burns celebration.  Look out - it's addicting.  

Don't forget a dram or two of whisky to wash it down, and give a "vote of thanks" at the end to those who've joined you, helped prepare the meal, and attempted reading Burns' work in Scottish.





12 comments:

Jennie said...

Oh, this one was FUN!  It was interesting, reveals another culture, might have been easier for me to understand because I'm aware of the event & the connection with Magnus.  One thing, why did Burns night come up now on your blog?  That was not explained.  Is the date upon us?   AND I had and enjoyed haggis at the Bitterroot Scottish Irish festival.

Bethann said...

Thanks for asking.  Burns night is the 25th of January - the day of his birthday.  I've revised the text above to make that more clear.  It's nice to hear why you liked something, not just that you did.
Glad you tried haggis!  Honestly, the only time I did was after the haggis Magnus made from an old ram sheep - he and Jerod butchered it.  I got leftovers, late that weekend, and it was not something I'd want again.  But, reading on the BBC about haggis while writing this blog post, I was surprised by the glowing descriptions.  They must use younger sheep. :)  I'll probably try it again, if I ever get the chance. 

Rebecca said...

We shared a meal of haggis, neeps, tatties, and cock-a-leekie soup, with mince pie for dessert with 10 new and old friends in Bozeman. We had about 8 or 9 difference whiskies to taste, and some fine poetry reading after dessert. A good time!! We enjoyed your blog too!!5 hours ago · Unlike · 2Bethann Garramon Merkle Nice! Sounds wonderful.  I have to ask, did you butcher another sheep and rooster? How do you make haggis in Bozeman? Where did you get a stomach and lungs? 4 hours ago · LikeRebecca McCaffery No butchering involved, just some nice ingredients from our local stores. The soup involved a plump MT chicken, and we made the haggis using beef heart and liver. We steamed the haggis in a pudding basin, since no stomach was at hand. I don't think you would be able to acquire lungs or stomach here unless you knew someone who was butchering...and generous!4 minutes ago · Unlike · 1Rebecca McCaffery I will be happy if we never scrape out and boil a sheep stomach again. 3 minutes ago · Unlike · 1Bethann Garramon Merkle Ha ha! Right.  Just knowing you two, I figured anything was possible. a few seconds ago · Like

Rebecca said...

We shared a meal of haggis, neeps, tatties, and cock-a-leekie soup, with mince pie for dessert with 10 new and old friends in Bozeman. We had about 8 or 9 difference whiskies to taste, and some fine poetry reading after dessert. A good time!! We enjoyed your blog too!!

Bethann said...

Nice! Sounds wonderful.  I have to ask, did you butcher another sheep and rooster? How do you make haggis in Bozeman? Where did you get a stomach and lungs? :)

Rebecca said...

No butchering involved, just some nice ingredients from our local stores. The soup involved a plump MT chicken, and we made the haggis using beef heart and liver. We steamed the haggis in a pudding basin, since no stomach was at hand. I don't think you would be able to acquire lungs or stomach here unless you knew someone who was butchering...and generous!I will be happy if we never scrape out and boil a sheep stomach again. 

Bethann said...

Ha ha! Right.  Just knowing you two, I figured anything was possible. 

Shirley said...

Sorry, but that has to be the most disgusting looking haggis I have ever seen!  It's usually oval, like a football. Magnus sure did some job on that! 

Bethann said...

That's a particularly 'charming' haggis because it really is the sheep's stomach - esophagus and all.  That Scotsman and my husband were directly involved in the demise of the sheep that became that haggis.  :)

Shirley said...

I was wondering what that long thing was hanging out on the side . . . 
It reminded me of quahog clams. Not a pretty sight!

Poor old sheep. 

Bethann said...

It was an obnoxious old sheep, actually. Haggis was its dignified destiny, it seems.

Bethann said...

Oh!  Correction, hubby helped with the chicken's final moments; it was another fellow who dealt with the sheep.

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