As you go about your grocery shopping this weekend, you’re almost certain to notice the return of a seasonal speciality stacked high in the perishable goods counter.
Yes, the delightful delicacy known as the haggis makes its short-lived annual return this week, as the Scottish and Ulster Scots prepare to honour the greatest bard of their ken, Rabbie Burns, on his birthday and national holiday of January 25.
Now, call me picky, but if I were a dead poet who had once devoted my entire life to waxing lyrical about love, life and the human condition, I think I’d be a bit miffed if my memory was celebrated by people eating a pig’s stomach stuffed with minced entrails but maybe that’s just me.
However, unlike William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and all the other literary big cheeses, at least we remember his birthday and, as a lover of the written word, I believe it’s only right to mark the occasion in kind even though I’m a complete Sassenach, born and bred.
Unfortunately my boys don’t share my enthusiasm. I’ll never forget the first time I attempted a proper Burns Night supper of haggis flambéed with Scotch, ‘tatties’ (mashed potatoes) and ‘neeps’ (smashed turnips) with The Proclaimers playing in the background because I couldn’t get a lone piper.
I had foolishly imagined that the boys, being adventurous and voracious eaters, would welcome a new interesting dish to try, but soon realised I was wrong when I lifted the haggis out of the fridge and both boys feigned spontaneous wretching. I tried to pass it off as a “type of sausage” but it was too late: Finn had his beady eye on the ingredients label and was already recoiling in horror.
“Pork blood? EEEWWWW!! Pork lungs? Pork means pig, right? That’s DISGUSTING! Pig’s lungs!! Eeewwww gross!! Oh my God! Pig’s heart?!”
And then Luke, of course, chipped in. He helpfully remembered reading somewhere that haggis used to be made from pig’s stomach, so we had a further chorus of yelps and gagging noises while they lobbed the haggis back and forth to one another across the kitchen like it was a ticking time bomb.
The final nail in the culinary coffin came when I tried to persuade them that it would “almost certainly be delicious” because it came from a luxury food range. Then one of them started humming the M&S advert music, while the other cooed: “This isn’t just pig’s stomach — it’s M&S pig’s stomach stuffed with organs, body parts and congealed fat ...”
So my poor little haggis got chopped up and fed to the dogs while the boys perused the local tandoori takeaway menu. At least the bottle of Scotch will not have been bought in vain, I thought as I poured myself a large one.
The following year I got away with it by surreptitiously preparing and cooking it while they were at school and then disguising it under gravy.
They wolfed it down to my great satisfaction, especially since it had been on special offer at Tesco. The precedent had at last been set. If they ever again were to turn their noses up at the annual festive offering I would simply cite the great haggis heist of 2010 when they ate it with naïve innocence and absolute relish.
Seriously though, if you have never tried a haggis, now’s the perfect time to do so. I think they’re delicious — hot and spicy, bursting with flavour and an absolute doddle to cook. Just don’t tell the kids until afterwards what they’ve just eaten.
And now, afore ye go, here are a few words from the great bard himself to get you in the proper mood for dinner on Wednesday night:
“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 of a grace
As lang's my arm
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!”