I was given The Haggis A Little History by a friend. I was surprised to find that Clarissa Dickson Wright had written this book as I had thought of her as quintessentially English. In fact she has lived in and has strong associations with Scotland, including spending several years as Rector for the University of Aberdeen. She is best known as co-presenter of the TV series Two Fat Ladies which explored and demonstrated old UK culinary traditions and recipes. There were 4 series of the show, which ended when Jennifer Patterson (the other Fat Lady) died of lung cancer. The philosophy of the two ladies – that rich food was good food – makes Dickson Wright an ideal writer for a book about haggis.
A small, short book consisting of 59 pages The Haggis A Little History is a delightful exploration of this well-loved Scottish dish. The last page hosts an illuminating glossary of Scottish terms relevant to the subject. The Introduction tells of how the author asked people a couple of key questions to help her research this book. The first was what they associated with Scotland, which established that haggis came high on the list. She then asked a hundred people what country they associated with haggis and all but one said Scotland. Yet it is also a dish which has associations with other parts of the world. It could be, she surmises, that Robert Burns immortalised the haggis as Scottish – his poem Address To The Haggis, spoken at Burns Nights the world over, appears as an appendix to the book accompanied by a picture of a piper playing as a haggis is carried behind him on a large dish by a kilted man.
The illustrations by Clare Hewitt are wonderful, from a map with Scotland highlighted in an orangey tone to a haggis cooking over an open fire. Haggis appears in many of the pictures, for instance by a picnic basket and next to a bottle of whisky and a plate of shortbread – both traditional Scottish fare.
This book is a small haggis encyclopaedia – it talks of the history and origins of haggis, makers of haggis, haggis trimmings such as neeps and tatties, haggis in different parts of the world, people who have appreciated haggis (one of whom was Queen Victoria) and, of course, Robert Burns. She talks of the Swedish polsa, which has several similarities to haggis. She looks at the haggis diaspora, and the respect people have for haggis from Russia to America. This book provides a great overview of haggis and is infused by the large personality of the author.
I have provided an Amazon link to The Haggis A Little History below, and also a link to a DVD set of the Two Fat Ladies TV programmes – both of which I recommend.