Anyone who is interested in food will enjoy Burns Night and, more particularly, the Haggis. Culinary legend, symbol, and delight, its earthy flavours reflect the sere, austere, haunting landscape of its origin; of reflected worlds in mountain lakes, of untamed stags and quite possibly Jurassic waterlife. The Taster salutes the Haggis, compliments him on his Tartan, and suggests the following for a Traditional Burns Night Supper.
You need not be Scots to host a Burns Night. All you need do is use the term ‘Scots’ (as opposed to ‘Scottish,’ the mark of an irredeemable Sassenach) and never spell Whisky with an E (that would be Oirish Whiskey, an it please yer honour). Just ask a Scots chum or two to Address the Haggis. The Taster is pleased to report that, the one time it did this, it transpired that none of the Glaswegian and Edinburgh personalities so invited had ever Addressed the Haggis in their lives; and they were very pleased to be asked to do so.
Piping in the Guests
A piper welcomes the guests. If you can’t source a traditionally-clad piper, a download of Scottish Airs will do.
A short but important prayer, to be read by the Host (or designated speaker). Also known as Burns’s Grace at Kirkcudbright (pronounced “kurk-uh-bruh”). It goes: ‘Some hae meat and canna eat / And some wad eat that want it / But we hae meat and we can eat / And sae the Lord be thankit’
Piping in the Haggis
Guests stand to welcome the star attraction, ideally delivered on a silver platter by a procession of: Chef, Piper (or Bearer of the Ceremonial iPod), Those Who Will Address the Haggis, and Whisky-Bearers. Guests clap in time to the music until the Haggis reaches the table.
Addressing the Haggis
The Haggis-Carver/Addresser now seizes his, or her, moment of glory. They may ad-lib, if they wish, or (given the pressure of expectation) read from a script. They cut the Haggis along its length (“trenching its gushing entrails”) at the appropriate point. (It may be advisable to make a small cut in the Haggis beforehand in the privacy of the kitchen, to allow the escape of steam and prevent any superheated explosions of gore all over the guests.) During the final, triumphant line — ‘Gie her a haggis!’ — the Addresser should raise the Haggis to at least shoulder-height, to which the audience should respond with rapturous applause.
Toast to the Haggis
The Speaker requests the audience to join in the toast: typically, “The Haggis!” The Haggis may be baptised afresh with a splash of neat whisky before serving. If the procession withdraws for its noble cause (to be cut up in the kitchen), guests should clap during the withdrawal.
The traditional starter would be cock-a-leekie soup. This may be prepared according to tradition, requiring anything up to 24 hours’ hard labour beforehand; alternatively, we understand, a tinned version is available. For the main course, the Haggis is accompanied by neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes — as nice as you choose to make them, with cream, butter, nutmeg etc); followed by sherry trifle or ‘clootie dumpling’ (search online); cheese and bannocks (flatbread — search online again); and malt whisky. Scots salmon and/or vegetarian haggis are also acceptable.
Burns songs and readings. Or perhaps not. It depends how many literature graduates you know/are able to inveigle into the evening, However proceedings go, though, it is only polite to conclude them with a Toast to the Memory of Robert Burns.
Auld Lang Syne
The Host requests guests to stand and belt out a rousing rendition of the famous tune. Carriages home will then, if the Host has any sense, be ordered.
For Auld Lang Syne, my dears — for Auld Lang Syne!
WHAT HAGGIS TO BUY
If you are lucky enough to live in Scotland, or have a very good butcher nearby, do use your local supplier(s). Otherwise, Jo Macsween is very good for haggis, and they do vegetarian and gluten-free versions, along with black pudding and sausages in innovative new flavours (chocolate & chilli, wild boar, three-bird etc)