Haggis: Scotland's Dish

The following is an article from the book Uncle John's Fast-Acting Long-Lasting Bathroom Reader.

(Image credit: Kim Traynor)

Back in the 1950s, the BRI's future food historian, Jeff Cheek, took a trip to Scotland while on one of his clandestine missions with the CIA. (He won't tell us why he was there.) But he did write this story of haggis for us- the origin, the tradition, and the elusive hunt for a wee, wee beastie.

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT

Scotland has given the world many gifts: plaid, golf, the poetry of Robert Burns, and Scotch whisky. They have also offered us their national dish -haggis- but there are few takers… once they find out what haggis is made of. It is the offal (the waste parts) of a slaughtered sheep, minced and then boiled in a sheep's stomach. The dish and name most likely came from the Vikings- the Swedes have a similar dish, hagga, but they use choice cuts of meat to make it. The frugal Scottish farmers, however, wasted nothing, so instead of discarding the lungs, heart, and liver, they used these along with homegrown oats to make haggis. And the Scots have revered it for centuries.

In his "Address to Haggis," 18th-century poet Robert Burns called the dish "the Great Chieftain of the Pudding Race." And it has become a Scottish tradition to serve haggis on Burns Night, January 25th, to celebrate the poet's birthday. Loyal Scotsmen are also supposed to eat haggis on November 30, St. Andrew's Day, to honor Scotland's patron saint.

Read the English translation here. (YouTube link)

DOWN THE HATCH

Another tradition may explain the dish's lasting popularity: you don't eat the haggis by itself- it must be served with "neeps, tatties, and a dram." Translation: turnips, mashed potatoes, and Scotch whisky. (Possible rationale: everything tastes better is you wash it down with whisky.)

As you might imagine, most non-Scots (and many natives) are quick to reject a dish of innards, so many restaurants in Scotland prepare a more palatable version of haggis for their squeamish visitors: its cooked in pots instead of stomachs and uses choice cuts of meat instead of the awful offal.

HAGGIS HUNTING

A specimen of Haggis scoticus. (Image credit: MyName (StaraBlazkova))

Now, you know where haggis comes from, but gullible tourists are told a different tale  by the Scots. The haggis is actually a "wee beastie" that lives in the bogs and glens of Scotland. It's easy to recognize these little creatures- their legs are shorter on one side than the other. Why? From scurrying sideways up the step Scottish hills, of course. It's very difficult to find a haggis, as they only come out at night. And they have very sensitive ears.

"So if ye go hunting' for the haggis, don't wear anything under ye kilt. That sounda ye underwear rubbing' against ye plaid will send 'em divine' for cover, laddie! And another thing: before ye go, you gotta drink lots and lotsa Scotch to mask ye human odor. Them haggis have very sensitive noses, too, ye know!"

Result: scores of happy, half-naked, inebriated tourists wandering around the countryside after midnight, drinking whisky and swearing that they just saw a real, live haggis… but it got away. "If ye come back next year," you'll be told, "perhaps you'll catch one of those wee, tiny beasties."

RECIPE FOR TRADITIONAL HAGGIS

1 pound sheep liver
1 large onion, chopped
2 pounds dry oatmeal
1 sheep stomach, scraped and cleaned
1 pound suet, chopped
3 cups meat stock
½ teaspoon each of cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper

Preparation: boil liver and onion until liver is done. Mince together. Lightly brown oatmeal in a hot skillet, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Mix all ingredients. Fill stomach with mixture, pressing to remove the air. Sew stomach securely, then prick with a needle so it won't burst. Slow boil for four hours. Serve with "neeps, tattties, and a dram."

Something to chew on while waiting for the haggis to cook: A Scottish chef, John Paul McLachlan, created the world's most expensive haggis for Burns Night in 2005. He marinated Scottish beef in Balvenie cask 191, a 50-year-old Scotch (only 83 bottles exist), and then boiled it in a sheep's stomach. Cost: $5,500.

_________________________

The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Fast-Acting Long-Lasting Bathroom Reader.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!


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