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Burns Night

I was fascinated to learn that there are strong historic ancestral links between my place of birth, Jamaica, and Scotland. Now I know why I feel so strongly drawn to all things Scottish – and I am fascinated by its heritage and traditions. None more so than Burns Night!

Burns Night is a big annual celebration in Scotland. It commemorates the life and poetry of the legendary poet Robert Burns. Delicious traditional suppers with a poetry recital are normally held on or near the poet’s birthday, 25 January. Everyone enjoys a hearty Burns Night meal – haggis, neeps* and tatties*, accompanied by plenty of whisky. (*Neeps are mashed turnip, and tatties, potatoes).

The first Burns supper was held in July 1801 when nine of Burns’ close friends got together to mark the fifth anniversary of their dear friend’s death. Taking place at Burns’ Cottage in Alloway, the night included a tasty meal (haggis, of course!), performances of Burns’ work and a speech in honour of the great poet. The night was such a roaring success that they decided to hold it again (this time in honour of Burns’ birthday), beginning the tradition we still enjoy to this day.

Shop Burns Night

Each Burns supper is unique, but the running order typically goes something like this:

To begin – all guests gather, the host says a few welcoming words, everyone sits and the ‘Selkirk Grace’ is said.

The meal – the starter is served, the haggis is piped in, the host performs the famous Burns Night haggis poem, Address to a Haggis, everyone toasts the haggis and the main meal is served, followed by dessert.

After the meal – the first Burns recital is performed after Burns Night food, the Immortal Memory (the main tribute speech to Burns) is given, the second Burns recital is performed, then there’s a Toast to the Lassies, followed by a Reply to the Toast to the Lassies, before the final Burns recital is performed.

To finish the night – the host gives a vote of thanks, everyone stands and sings Auld Lang Syne, crossing their arms and joining hands at the line ‘And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!’.

Ode To the Haggis

This poem was written by Burns to celebrate his appreciation of the Haggis. As a result Burns and Haggis have been forever linked.

This particular poem is always the first item on the programme of Burns’ suppers. The haggis is generally carried in on a silver salver at the start of the proceedings.

As it is brought to the table a piper plays a suitable, rousing accompaniment.

One of the invited artistes then recites the poem before the theatrical cutting of the haggis with the ceremonial knife.

Scots

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
‘Bethankit’ hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis

Translation

Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

The groaning trencher there you fill,
Your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your pin would help to mend a mill
In time of need,
While through your pores the dews distill
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour wipe,
And cut you up with ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like any ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm steaming, rich!

Then spoon for spoon, the stretch and strive:
Devil take the hindmost, on they drive,
Till all their well swollen bellies by-and-by
Are bent like drums;
Then old head of the table, most like to burst,
‘The grace!’ hums.

Is there that over his French ragout,
Or olio that would sicken a sow,
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust,
Looks down with sneering, scornful view
On such a dinner?

Poor devil! see him over his trash,
As feeble as a withered rush,
His thin legs a good whip-lash,
His fist a nut;
Through bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit.

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his ample fist a blade,
He’ll make it whistle;
And legs, and arms, and heads will cut off
Like the heads of thistles.

You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery stuff,
That splashes in small wooden dishes;
But if you wish her grateful prayer,
Give her [Scotland] a Haggis!

Haggis, Neeps & Tatties

You can’t celebrate Burns Night without this classic Scottish recipe.

Method

  1. Heat the haggis following the instructions, meanwhile peel the potatoes and turnips, then dice the turnips and carrot into 1cm cubes and cut the potatoes into quarters.
  2. Gently boil the potatoes in a pan of salted water and the carrot and turnip in a separate pan of salted water for 20-25 minutes until soft.
  3. Drain each pan separately and allow all the steam and moisture to evaporate. This will ensure creamy potatoes and turnips that are not watery.
  4. To the potatoes, add 40g butter, the hot milk, salt and pepper to taste and mash well until creamy. To the turnips and carrots, add 40g butter, salt and pepper to taste and mash, retaining some texture.
  5. Serve altogether with the hot haggis.

Ingredients

  • 900g Black Farmer haggis
  • 1kg turnips
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1kg Maris Piper potatoes
  • 100ml milk, warmed in the microwave
  • 80g butter
  • salt and pepper to taste