Guest Author - Asha Sahni
When I first came to Scotland I had several Scots tell me - with straight faces - the story of how the haggis was a 4 legged creature native to the Scottish Highlands. They claimed that haggis have legs which are shorter on one side than the other, to enable them to run easily around Scottish mountains. Scots are happy to perpetuate the myth that Haggis are native Scottish creatures which you can hunt for your supper...
In truth haggis, a famous Scottish dish, is not for the faint hearted. It traditionally contains sheep's "pluck" (lungs, heart and liver), onions, oatmeal, beef suet and spices. These ingredients are stuffed and sewn into a sheep's stomach (sometimes called a "sheep's stomach bag") and boiled. Modern day haggis is often made with a cheaper man-made skin.
"Neaps and tatties" - mashed potatoes and turnips - are the usual haggis accompaniment. Haggis is not an everyday food; it is saved for special occasions, particularly those celebrating Scotland.
A key event in the haggis calendar is 25 January - the anniversary of the poet Robert Burns' birthday. Burns Night is celebrated throughout Scotland with Burns Suppers; these Suppers also take place in many other parts of the world where Scots and/or people with Scots ancestry gather. At formal Burns Suppers the haggis will be brought in by the cook to the accompaniment of bagpipes. This will be followed by a recitation of Burns' poem "Address To A Haggis". The haggis will be toasted before the meal begins.
Whilst Scots like to claim ownership of the haggis there is no definitive evidence that the haggis originated in Scotland. Burns' poem made the dish famous and it is mentioned in the poem "Flyting of Dunbary and Kennedy" (c1520). Before this history is murky, and there are records in earlier centuries of similar dishes in France and the Roman Empire. One theory is that haggis developed from the need to use as much of an animal that had been hunted or slaughtered as possible.
As a vegetarian for 28 years I have welcomed the advent of vegetarian haggis. Ingredients include lentils, kidney beans and mushrooms and the dish is oven baked. It is also possible to make a vegan (no meat or dairy products) version of the recipe.
If you are not able to celebrate with haggis itself on Burns Night, consider raising a dram of whisky to the uneven legged haggis running round a Scottish mountain...
If you would like to learn more about haggis I would recommend the small book The Haggis - A Little History. You will find a link to my review of the book at the bottom of the page under Related Links.