Wow! What a night. It was absolutely brilliant. Terrific food, great entertainment and lots of fun. Absolutely my kind of cup of tea.
I am in Scotland now. And last night I went to a Burns Night Supper. I ate Haggis, danced lots of reels and didn’t say no to a glass of whisky, even though I can’t really handle spirits. But I had such a great time, I couldn’t resist temptation. OK, so I am feeling a little delicate today but the brisk country air is helping to restore me, at least a little.
But let me start from the beginning.
I have some friends in a small town, about half an hour south of Edinburgh. The landscape is breathtaking. It’s not the Highlands, mind you, but definitely different. There are gorgeous lochs nestled in between some medium-sized mountains. The sun shone in its full glory. Oh, it was just perfect.
I have always wanted to go to a Burns Night Supper. I had heard a lot about them, the celebrating of the haggis, the speeches, the dancing. Am I deviating again? Sorry.
So, let’s put this into context. Back in the 18th century, there was a Scottish poet called Robert Burns. And he wrote a poem about the Scottish national dish, the Haggis. And every January, around the 25th, people celebrate his birthday; the so-called Burns Night.
The menu doesn’t change. For the main course, you get a slice of haggis and some “neeps and tatties”, which are turnips and potatoes. These are mashed.
Our starter was a traditional Scotch broth and for pudding, we had something called Clootie Dumpling. It’s a dark, fruity sort of cake.
It’s certainly not fine dining by any means but in this case, who cares! It’s all about Scottish tradition. And there was no shortage of that!
Anyway, when we were all seated at our tables in the village hall, in marched a bagpipe player followed by a waitress carrying this almighty haggis. You can arrange it how you like, but I can’t help it, it just doesn’t look appealing at all! Both marched to the end of the hall, where the “Ode to the Haggis” was spoken. It’s that famous poem in which Robert Burns pays homage to the haggis. Yes, he wrote a poem about a selection of meats, not very appealing to look at, even though it tastes better than it looks. Once homage was paid, the haggis was sliced, and we all got a plate of food.
Another waitress came around to each of us and asked if we wanted some sauce to go with our meat. Now I love a good gravy, so I said, ‘yes please’ and she proceeded to pour whisky over my meat! Can you believe it! Oh well! When in Scotland, do as the Scots do.
Between the main course and dessert with coffee, came the traditional “Address to the Lassies” in which the village menfolk decided to give the ladies some of their sound advice, all related to anything that happened in the village during the last year. I didn’t understand much of it, not because of the different accented English they speak here, but just because it was local gossip. But of course, one shouldn’t underestimate the resolve of a Scottish woman, and the “Reply from the Lassies” soon put the menfolk back in their place. All good-natured and nothing serious, after all, there was dancing to come.
Now, I can’t write this column without saying something about the clothes, can I? Ladies, I know the secret but my lips are sealed. Practically all the men wore kilts and I know the answer to that eternal question; do they or don’t they wear anything underneath? But I must say, men in kilts with all the trimmings is a sight to behold. Different tartan cloths from different clans but ooh so elegant and actually quite masculine. Oh, I’m getting all hot and cold flushes now, sorry!
Anyway, feet were beginning to itch, some traditional Scottish musicians walked in and it was time to push back those chairs and hit the dance floor. But how?
Most of you will have heard of line dancing from the United States and will have heard of Irish dancing, made popular by “Riverdance” back in the 1980s. Well, Scottish country dancing is somewhere in between. It’s more genteel. Nobody flings themselves around the room, there are sedate dances and then there are livelier dances but it all has the feel of a bygone age, back to the 19th or 18th century. You could easily forget our modern times. Well, I certainly did.
The choice of drinks was, well, you could have whisky, whisky or whisky. A lot of it was drunk over the course of the evening and, as the evening wore on, it did get a little loud and boisterous.
I can’t remember what time it was but the evening closed with a rousing chorus of “Auld Lang Syne”. Everybody present stood in a circle on the dance floor, held hands and sang it together, the louder the better.
Did I say I had a good time? Sorry for being boring. All I can say is, going to a Burns Night Supper really should be on your bucket list. You don’t have to go to Scotland, there might be one in your area too. But if you get the chance, then go for it.
Thanks to the Beeb, here is a recipe for Haggis if you’re brave enough to try it.
What you need.
- 1 sheep’s stomach or ox secum, cleaned and thoroughly scalded, turned inside out and soaked overnight in cold salted water
- heart and lungs of one lamb
- 450g/1lb beef or lamb trimmings, fat and lean
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 225g/8oz oatmeal
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp ground dried coriander
- 1 tsp mace
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- water, enough to cook the haggis
- stock from lungs and trimmings
What you do
- Wash the lungs, heart and liver (if using). Place in large pan of cold water with the meat trimmings and bring to the boil. Cook for about 2 hours.
- When cooked, strain off the stock and set the stock aside.
- Mince the lungs, heart and trimmings.
- Put the minced mixture in a bowl and add the finely chopped onions, oatmeal and seasoning. Mix well and add enough stock to moisten the mixture. It should have a soft crumbly consistency.
- Spoon the mixture into the sheep’s stomach, so it’s just over half full. Sew up the stomach with strong thread and prick a couple of times so it doesn’t explode while cooking.
- Put the haggis in a pan of boiling water (enough to cover it) and cook for 3 hours without a lid. Keep adding more water to keep it covered.
- To serve, cut open the haggis and spoon out the filling. Serve with neeps (mashed swede or turnip) and tatties (mashed potatoes).