For this post, I thought I would write a little bit about a traditional Burns Supper which is eaten by many every year in Scotland on the day of, or close to the late bard (poet) Robert Burns’, birthday January 25 called Burns Night. It is a supper (evening meal) which typically consists of eating a traditional Scottish dish, toasting with whisky (for the adults), reciting poems written by Burns, and the playing of bagpipes. Suppers vary in formality and can sometimes just consist of eating the dish.
The purpose of the supper is to celebrate the life and poetry of Robert Burns. Burns was a 18th Century Scottish poet who is regarded by many as being the best ever Scottish poet. His legacy is thus celebrated greatly in Scotland. Each year, in the approach to his birthday, school children across the country practice reading and learning Burns’ poems in order to recite them in class. There is usually an award for the best recitation. Personally, I never did too well. I blame it on the fact I’m not wholly Scottish, and was actually born in England!
If you’d like to read some of his poetry to find out what the Scots language is like and what his poetry is like, then this is a link to a website with all of his works: http://www.robertburns.org/works/ As this is a food blog, however, I will now give a wee (Scots word for small) description of the dish which is traditionally served. It is comprised of three elements.
The main part is haggis. Haggis is a somewhat odd food, and is frequently met with suspicion from visitors to Scotland! It is made from various organs of pigs or sheep, mixed with grains, usually barley or oatmeal, and a blend of spices and salt. They come in varying sizes, from small individual ones to high ones to serve a large dinner party. It is, unsurprisingly, the ‘organs’ part that causes suspicion and also the fact that the mixture is cooked in a sheep’s stomach. It really doesn’t sound very appealing when it is described initially but it is actually very tasty, I think so anyway. The main taste when eating is that of the spices and salt so you can easily forget that the not-so-appetising ingredients are in it! It is certainly a food, nonetheless, that is often a ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ one. At formal Burns Supper, it is traditional for the haggis to be ‘piped in’. This means that the haggis is brought to the table while a bag piper plays.
‘Neeps’ are a Scottish root vegetable. ‘Neep’ is short for turnip but outside Scotland, turnip tends to refer to a different root vegetable, similar, but different in flesh colour and size. (Swede is the more common word for neeps outside of Scotland.) The neeps are peeled, cut up, and boiled until soft and then mashed. They have a sweet taste and a look, when cooked, similar to mashed sweet potato – a rich orange colour.
‘Tatties’ is the Scots word for potatoes. These are boiled and mashed with butter and milk and served along with the haggis and neeps. There is a nice contrast in textures and taste in the three components of the dish. The haggis is meaty and salty, the neeps, sweet and juicy, while the tatties finish the dish off with a neutral-type savoury taste.
Here is the full Burns Supper dish when served:
To follow the haggis dish, a Scottish dessert such as Cranachen is usually served. Cranachen is delicious and is one of my not-so-healthy treat foods! It consists of lots of cream, berries, toasted oatmeal, and (sometimes) lashings of whisky.
The supper is frequently concluded with toasts to the memory of Burns and comes to a close with the singing of Auld Lang Syne (history and words here), a famous traditional Scottish song. All the guests will stand and link arms while singing.
Hope you have enjoyed this wee whirl into Scottish culture,
External links for more information on Burns Supper and Scotland: