Burns Supper: Eating the Offal Stuff

bud in harpAs I’m Scottish, many of our bookstore events have a Celtic theme: the St. Patrick’s Day ceilidh dance in March; a celebration of St. Andrew’s Day just before Thanksgiving; welcoming the New Year with a Hogmanay party into the ‘wee sma’ hours.

Don't get the idea that it's all drinking. There are just a lot of toasts... Chris led the Immortal Memory toast.

Don’t get the idea that it’s all drinking. There are just a lot of toasts… Chris led the Immortal Memory toast.

But the highlight of our Scots calendar is the Burns Supper we hold at the end of January. In common with Scots around the world we host a traditional observance of the birthday of National Bard Robert (Rabbie) Burns.

And the highlight of this night is haggis.

Jodi happens to be a vegetarian...

Jodi happens to be a vegetarian…

Ah, haggis! That mixture of oats, blood and bits of sheep that normally get thrown away but Scots keep and consume with enthusiasm. I love haggis–although for some strange reason Wendy isn’t quite as enthusiastic as me. I’ve had many adventures over the years involving haggis, including once escorting (ok, smuggling) an enormous one through customs to a British consulate Burns Supper in Istanbul.

David reciting the Ode to the Haggis. Note knife in left hand.

David reciting the Ode to the Haggis. Note knife.

This event has always been packed out at the bookstore, and is the main reason we put castors under some of our bookshelves, so they can be moved to create extra space. We serve the traditional ‘champit tatties’ (mashed potatoes) and ‘bashed neeps’ (mashed rutabagas) alongside the haggis, not to mention Cranachan (whipped cream with honey and whisky, topped with toasted oats). Last year, a woman licked her Cranachan plate when she discovered the serving bowl was empty.bells with haggis

The haggis is piped in by our friend Randy and is handed ‘round the assembled company—some of whom look rather dubious as it passes from their hands—while the ‘Ode to a Haggis’ is recited. After the food, we have ‘The Immortal Memory’, a few Burns songs and stories from Wendy and me, and the hilarious Toast to and Response from the lassies. (Think Simon Cowell meets Hilary Clinton in a battle of the sexes.)

Jack delivers a Burns song

Jack delivers a Burns song

It’s a fun night, and to me the highlight of our events year. ‘Course, I would think so, being Scottish, but in addition to loving it for itself, I delight in the facial expressions of Americans trying haggis for the first time. And I have wee drams ready for those who look as though they’ve swallowed something offal. Heh heh. Get it? Offal?

For those interested, Wendy and I will do two Burns Suppers this year: at our bookstore Jan. 24th, and the weekend of 25th/26th Jan. at Hyltons Performing Arts Center in Manassas, VA, as part of their Highlands Festival.

toast to lassies


Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

8 responses to “Burns Supper: Eating the Offal Stuff

  1. I’ve only eaten haggis once– in Scotland, in a restaurant in Pitlochry– and really enjoyed it. It was 1987 so memory is dim, but my recollection is that it tasted like a tweedy ( sage, no biting spices) sausage. How’s my memory?

  2. Kathy

    this is one dish I am not found of even though my relatives of Ireland would think so I am not going to carry on the traditional food at my family functions. I think it is the color and texture that turns me from eating it.

  3. Relax. Your relatives in Ireland have probably never seen nor tasted haggis. It is from Scotland. In any case, genuine haggis is unavailable in the US, which bans certain traditional ingredients.

    • Kathy

      thanks for the explanation Wendy, I guess I better check myself before posting. but I have tasted haggis a friend introduced me to a can of it. it reminds me of liver pudding they have at country stores in NC.

      • that wasn’t me! (This is Wendy.) But yes, you’re right that it is like liver pudding. And we will be serving canned haggis, but it is possible to get homemade haggis in the States. We have a friend with a farm who makes it, but we didn’t connect this year.

  4. I’m not hurrying to try haggis, I admit. Should it come my way, I expect I’ll give it a try, but the ingredients list sound like something the dog threw up. That said, my sons liked it very much when they visited Scotland, and one of those sons isn’t even a drinking man.

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