Friday, January 30, 2009

Of Haggis, Whisky, and Robert Burns

I completely missed it this year -- the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns.  

It got called to my attention through the Order of Julian Affiliates' online network.  There was a major discussion on the merits, or not, of haggis.  One affiliate said that in her hometown in Canada, there's a festivity during which teams see which team can propel a haggis across the river: "...some believe," she says, "that's the best that can be done to a Haggis..."  Another lady, who'd never partaken of the dish, recalled that her great-great grandmother had said that it was a "myth" in order to poke fun at the Scots.   The previous woman noted that she and her family were about to have a meal that evening of tinned haggis, bashed neeps, and Dundee cake.  Webster defines haggis thus: "a traditionally Scottish dish that consists of the heart, liver, and lungs of a sheep or a calf minced with suet, onions, oatmeal, and seasonings and boiled in the stomach of the animal."  As to bashed neeps, the woman said they're essentially turnips and potatoes, mashed together, with maybe some onion, salt, pepper, and butter.  Dundee cake is a "rich, fruity cake, topped with almonds.  Sounds OK to me! -- the cake, that is.  Many other folks who commented on the topic were decidedly less than enthusiastic about digging into the haggis.

I put my two cents' worth into the discussion by relating my first and only experience of haggis so far.  In January, 1997 I was asked by the Mendo-Lake Scottish Cultural Society (Ukiah, CA) to give the "Selkirk Grace" at a Robert Burns "Experience", complete with whisky (Scottish-"whisky"; Irish-"whiskey") and haggis. I never knew what the latter was; a lot of people there, some of them good Scotspersons, said it was terrible, horrible, vile: that if I ate it I'd probably regret it.  But, probably after a few whiskys, (I still have the shot glass, by the way) of course I had to try it. I have to say I rather liked it, in fact I think I may even have had a second go at it.  I was told that the taste and appeal of the haggis depends on who makes it and how. But I leave that to the Scots to haggle about.

For anyone wondering about the "Selkirk Grace", which Robert Burns apparently recited in his day:

"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."

And for your birth, life, poetry, and annual occasions to eat haggis and drink whisky (or whiskey, according to one's preference!), Robert Burns, we too "sae the Lord be thankit"!

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