Time for your piece: Ode to Robert Burns and a haggis

Time for your piece is a feature about Scottish food and traditions. The term ‘piece’ refers to a morning snack, one you’d enjoy with a cup of tea on a wee break. This feature is a wee break from the usual I Eat Therefore I Run fare, where you the reader can learn more (perhaps) about the food, restaurants and celebrations of this small country I currently call home.

Friday, 25 January marks Robbie Burns Day, a day to celebrate the life and work of Scottish poet Robert Burns; the day is also Burns’ actual birthday. In Scotland, people celebrate by attending formal Burns Suppers at a local town hall, or by having their own at home. The event itself can be referred to as Burn Night, and the meal is called the Burns Supper. Our meal on the 25th January was Italian from Zizzi’s, whoops! We had our Burns Supper (or lunch rather) the next day, at my in-law’s with aunts and uncles too.
It’s not just Scotland that celebrates Burns Night though: enthusiasts around the world gather to speak about the life of Robert Burns, eat haggis, neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes), drink some whisky, recite Burns poems and maybe sing Auld Lang Syne, (also written by Burns). To see the programme of a formal Burns Supper, the meal at which the celebration takes place, click here.
All Burns Suppers begin with the reciting of the Address to a Haggis, written by Burns in the Scots language. Below is a video of my husband Pat, addressing the haggis, in his best Scots accent:

An excerpt from Address to a Haggis: (click on the link to see the Scots to English ‘translation’).
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak yer place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my airm.
So what exactly is haggis? It is a pudding, which in Britain is a sweet or savoury dish encased like a sausage and boiled, steamed or baked. Haggis is a savoury pudding made of oats, onion, suet (raw beef fat), spices and a sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs), ground up and mixed together. Traditionally, this mixture was stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and simmered for about three hours before serving. Now, however, it’s often stuffed into sausage casing and can be microwaved in minutes, ready to serve. Here, haggis is also found on pizzas, in burgers, deep-fried and served with fries at chip shops (haggis supper), and even in pakoras! There is also a traditional Scottish dish, Balmoral Chicken, which is a chicken breast stuffed with haggis and wrapped in bacon, served with a whisky cream sauce. And finally, it can be the filling to Beef Olives, one of my favourite Scottish dishes of thinly sliced beef steak wrapped around either haggis, sausage meat or white pudding (oats only, no pluck).
What a glorious sight! A skillfully sliced haggis

Despite it’s interesting ingredients, I actually really like haggis, and because it’s all ground up to small, you don’t get that awkward feeling of I-don’t-want-to-find-something-completely-disgusting-in-this-mouthful-I’ve-just-eaten when you take a bite. The spices flavour the haggis so well, you don’t get any gross smells or tastes. I originally thought I’d have to always resort to the vegetarian haggis, a blend of oats, vegetables, beans, lentils and nuts. Also good, but not as much flavour.

 After the haggis was skillfully sliced, my mother-in-law served it up with a side of Rumbledethumps, mashed potato and turnip with fried cabbage, topped with cheese and baked. This is my new favourite winter comfort food.

Our pudding (dessert) was Sticky Toffee pudding, a slightly spicy date cake with a sinful toffee sauce, served with ice cream. Sorry no photo, but one day soon I’ll make one and post the recipe. And for the cheese course, a large selection of Scottish cheeses with oatcakes.

The cylindrical cheese on the bottom left is Taste of Arran mature cheddar with raspberry-infused cranberries from the local farm shop close to my house. It’s amazing, (both the cheese and the shop).

 We also had some Devenick Dairy cheeses, Crynoch Blue, The Devil’s Bite and the Coos R Oot (the cows are out); they also make a cleverly named Fet Like, a feta-like cheese made in Aberdeenshire, where some replace  the word ‘what’ is with ‘fet.’ The Devenick Dairy is in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, one of my favourite towns in Deeside.


It was a fantastic meal for food and company, and we spent the rest of the evening with the family, talking, laughing and eating some more. We also had some doggy cuddles:

And now for a recipe! I’ve not posted one for a while actually, although I have been busy in the kitchen. This past month at school, I’ve been making Scottish dishes with my students at school in honour of Burns Night, and also had them create their own Burns Supper Menu, full of traditional Scottish dishes, made with food that is grown, reared and produced in Scotland. They then typed it up on the computer and as I say, made it look pretty and Scottish with pictures and fancy writing. They’re now posted on a display board outside of my classroom at school. Sorry, no photo.
One dish we made last week was Rumbledethumps, the side we had with our haggis. It’s from the Scottish Borders, the county that borders England, and is made of what can be leftovers from a roast dinner. It can be served as a main or a side, and is a great winter warmer. We had it tonight with chicken schnitzels and steamed brocoli.
*serves 4
Half a turnip, peeled and cut into chunks
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1/4 of a cabbage, sliced
50g butter
50g cheddar cheese, grated
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat your oven to 190’C/375’F.
2. Boil your turnips for at least 5 minutes before adding the potatoes to the water; turnips take longer to cook, so they need a bit more time otherwise they’ll be too hard for mashing. 
3. Add the potatoes and boil for another 10 minutes, or until the potatoes and turnips are soft. 
4. In a frying pan on medium heat, melt 15g butter then add the olive oil. Once all melted, add the cabbage and fry with a lid on, stirring every minute or so. The cabbage should take about 5 minutes to cook. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Drain the potatoes and turnips, and return them to the pot. Add the remaining 35g butter to this, along with salt and pepper to taste. Mash until smooth. 

6. Stir in the fried cabbage, then transfer to an oven-proof dish. Top with grated cheddar cheese and bake for about 15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and golden.

You can substitute cabbage for kale, and/or fry with garlic. This dish also works great as leftovers.
What’s your favourite Scottish dish and/or food?
What’s your favourite winter warmer?
No running tonight, it’s blowing a hooly out there as they say in Scotland! It’s extreeeeeeemely windy outside, which makes for miserable running. I did my Shakti Flow yoga last night though, and learnt a new stretch for the IT band.

Next up: Going vegetarian could be resolution! But it’s not. It’s just what happens when you eat too much meat over the holidays. Happy Tuesday all!

2 thoughts on “Time for your piece: Ode to Robert Burns and a haggis

  1. Wow, every time I hear what's in haggis I cringe, though it is kind of tasty.

    And my all time favourite winter warmer is mac and cheese (with a generous helping of onions and mushrooms).

  2. It totally is tasty! Just have to block out the fact you're eating offal too.

    Mac and cheese is amaaaaaaaazing! Mushrooms is a nice addition; I like steamed brocoli, and this past weekend, also added fried cabbage. It was so good!

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