Happy Robert Burns Day to all our family and friends across the world and everyone with even a hint of Scottish blue blood running through their veins!
Every January 25th, the Scots (and many others around the world for that matter) gather to celebrate the life and poetry of Robert Burns on his birthday. Burns Suppers can be formal or informal but both include haggis (a traditional Scottish delicacy). And much Scotch Whisky.
I did attend one formal Burns Supper many years ago in Scotland, in the picturesque and history filled coastal village of St Monans at a community cafe called the Green Door. It was a great event and followed the traditional order of ceremonies and citing of Burns poems.
Since then, and since our move to Canada, our own celebrations have been much more informal but just as much fun!
In 2012 (I can’t believe it has been 10 years ago already!) we hosted a large Burns Supper in Edmonton (Alberta) on the Saturday night before Robert Burns Day and invited our Canadian friends round for a treat. We had a full house as I recall, with 21 guests, most of whom were haggis virgins (oh how I love messing with timorous haggis virgins) and were more than a little apprehensive about their first encounter with the mystical haggis.
Haggis has a bad reputation it seems, a bit like a scary urban legend which grows arms and legs with each telling , although in this case … its sheep stomachs.
Bless our courageous friends, for they came willing and trusting and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The only thing I asked of our guests at the time was that they attend wearing at least one tartan item as a nod to our Scottish heritage, the usual black tie attire of a traditional Burns Suppers was happily discarded.
I made two different haggis dishes that night. One was the traditional and very simple haggis, neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes), which is served in three dollops on your plate with some gravy.
I always make Lamb Gravy with Dijon Mustard and a good slug of Drambuie or Scotch Whisky, quite often The Glenrothes as its shares its name with that of our home town.
In Scotland, I use Swede turnips for the neeps. They are flavourful and have a lovely orange colour. We don’t get Swedes here in Canada and so I typically use the local rutabaga variety which is very pale in colour. Unfortunately, you don’t get the lovely contrast you see in the photo that I crave using rutabaga and so I often mash in some sweet potato as well to give it that zingy orange colour. For the mashed potato, I use lashings of butter, garlic, feta, fresh cracked black pepper and parsley.
Cooking haggis the traditional way is always good for the shock factor when catering for virgins.
OK, let’s get this over and done with … yes, traditionally haggis is cooked in a sheep’s stomach but just how do you think Italian sausages (or any other traditional sausages for that matter) were cooked in bygone years? Spoiler alert … inside intestine casings!
Some might think that procuring haggis can be tricky, I certainly don’t want to make it from scratch myself. I have a recipe, and who knows I might try it one of these days but its rather long and involved. I’d much rather go buy it at a butcher for convenience.
Not all haggis is created equal it has to be said but we were so lucky in Edmonton and bought great haggis from a place called Old Country Meat who make all their own products in-house. A British Store with a butcher section, or indeed a British butcher (if he’s Scottish so much the better) should be able to help you out. You may need to try a few haggis versions to see what you like best. Trust me, there is a haggis for everybody!
While we did love the haggis we bought in Edmonton, it is quite different to haggis in Scotland in terms of looks, texture and taste but you have to go with the flow when you’re living abroad. Nowadays we buy our haggis at Black Pudding Imports in Langley, BC.
The second version of haggis I made that night was a much more virgin friendly Haggis Shepherd Pie and it’s a version of this that I am cooking tonight for me and my hubby, with a convenience driven twist. Stick around if you want to see how it’s done. But in the meantime, back to revering haggis …
Last year, I did not do neeps (turnip) with our traditionally served haggis but I still wanted something orange on the plate and so I went with Heinz baked beans. Don’t knock it, it was still delicious! This year, I’ve decided to be creative again, check out the recipe at the end.
So what happens at a Burns Supper I hear you ask? Well, there is an order of ceremonies as I mentioned which involves much poetry reciting in 350 year old Scots tongue. I didn’t want to go formal with our event but I did want to treat our friends to a wee taste.
Normally, when the haggis is ready to be served, it’s piped into the room to the delight of standing guests. While my husband has many impressive musical talents, playing the bagpipes is not one of them so I selected a blood stirring track (Scotland the Brave) from a Pipe Band CD which belonged to my dad. Of course I didn’t tell our friends what was about to happen.
Close to the allotted time, I gave my husband his cue and he discreetly went upstairs to change into his kilt. We wanted to keep things casual and so he teamed his kilt with a Scotland rugby fleece, and tucked his sgian-dugh into one of his socks (a single edged knife worn as part of Scottish Highland dress pronounced skee-en-doo). That’s not Dougie’s leg in the photo by the way, his pins are probably hairier and his knife is bejewelled.
When Dougie returned, I started the bagpipes, took the haggis out of the oven, placed it on a decorative plate then proceeded to march it hither and dither around the kitchen island and adjoining living room for a minute or two while the bagpipes played and Dougie right behind me to ensure that the haggis received its full ceremonial glory.
The honourable haggis was then given pride of place on the dining table and Dougie prepared himself to give the highly rousing and entertaining “Address to a Haggis“.
At the start of the third verse, on reciting the line (His knife see rustic Labour dicht) , Dougie drew out and wiped his knife as he spoke. Then with dramatic flair and reckless abandon, upon the second line, (An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht) he plunged his knife deep into the heart of the haggis beast and slit it open from end to end much to the delight of our guests. Not that anyone present had any clue of what was being said. I must admit I was laughing so hard, I could barely stand up.
A video was made of Dougie’s fine speech that night but sadly I don’t have a copy. I tried tracking it down through one of the guests that attended that night but so far no luck. If it’s found in the future, I will definitely upload it. It was hilarious but for now, if you would like to hear a brilliant authentic Scottish rendition, please visit this link, this is fabulous:
The Definitive Address to a Haggis in Edinburgh Castle.
And what of the haggis dinner? The dreaded moment arrived. Once the thrill of the haggis kill died down, the food was ready on the stove for the tasting. I made THE announcement … nobody moved … eyeballs widened as they wondered who would be brave enough to go first. Well, it was me as my tummy was rumbling!
It was such a fun night and everyone truly did enjoy the haggis. No really, they did!! Our Canadian friends did us proud that night and went back for SECOND and THIRD helpings.
I made Tipsy Laird (Whisky Trifle) for desert and one of the guests made a beautiful Strawberry and Chocolate Cheesecake. There followed numerous rounds of whisky shots as you might imagine … and the kitchen took two hours to clean up the following morning despite us both doing clean up rounds during the night. I’d say a good night was had by all!
The Selkirk Grace
Another feature of a Burns Supper is the Selkirk Grace which is a short prayer in Scots tongue traditionally recited before the guests start their feast which gives thanks for the meal about to be eaten and goes like this:
Some hae meat an canna eat
And some wad eat that want it
But we hae meat, and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thankit
We didn’t say the Selkirk Grace that night, we stuck to our usual enthusiastic words of encouragement to our dinner guests which are “Stick in till ye stick oot!” which roughly translated means go ahead and start and fill your belly!
Haggis Shepherd Pie
Thank you for sticking with it if you’ve made it to this point and, if you’re not dying of hunger by now, here’s my easy peasy, super quick and ‘convenient’ recipe for you to try. I promise I will share my ‘deluxe’ recipe that I made for our Burns Supper another time. Please note that the quantities below are by the ‘elbow’ in much the same way as you would make a family sized Lasagne. Feel free to scale it up or down to suit your needs.
- 1 x Can of Haggis!
- 1 x Bag of Carrots mashed
- 1 x 11g Golden Grill Hashbrown Potatoes (Costco)
- Cheese for topping
- Seasoning of your choice – salt, black pepper, garlic, spice, Drambuie or Scotch
- You will be layering the three ingredients in an oven dish and will need sufficient quantities of each to completely cover the base of your dish in separate layers
- Peel and chop your carrots, boil until nice and tender, mash and set aside
- Prepare the hashbrown potatoes as per the instructions on the carton (reconstituting the dry ingredients with boiling water for 12 minutes)
- Preheat your oven to 350 C
- Open the can of haggis (or leftover fresh haggis if you should be so lucky) and heat gently in a pot at a low heat for a few minutes to soften
- Add a single shot of Drambuie or Scotch to the haggis if desired and stir thoroughly
- Start the layering with the haggis at the bottom of your dish
- Spoon the mashed carrots generously and evenly over the haggis
(make sure to season the carrots with a little salt and pepper first)
- Place the prepared hashbrowns in a separate bowl and season with salt, freshly cracked black pepper, garlic (powder or minced) and some chili flakes or other spices as desired
- Spoon the hashbrowns generously and evenly over the mashed carrot
- Finally, sprinkle the hashbrowns with cheddar, parmesan and/or whatever cheese takes your fancy
- Garnish with some more freshly cracked black pepper and a dusting of parsley
- Cook in the oven for one hour at 350C
- Make sure to enjoy with a wee dram of whisky!
Until next time, slainte mhath!