It’s Not as Bad as it Sounds, Haggis…

Fair fa yir honest, sonsy face – – (beautiful is your plain but healthy face; Ode to a Haggis)

haggisEvery year around Jan. 25 we host our bookstore Burns Supper. Robert Burns is, of course Scotland’s National poet/songwriter and our bookstore is a kind of local Scottish consulate so…

Our haggis was piped in – loudly – by Randy Stanley, Wise County’s resident piper. We always wonder what the neighbors think, because despite the frigid temperatures just now, we throw open the windows to let the sound out–and because 25 people in our upstairs cafe really turns up the body heat. The sound of the Great Pipes wafted out across the snow–and every dog within earshot began howling. We love bringing these special moments of cultural celebration to the town.

Besides pipes, an absolute necessity is a haggis – the subject of an address written by Burns. Finding a haggis in the US used to be a problem, so this year ours came from New Jersey. Haggis, for those of you unfamiliar with the substance, is sheep intestines stuffed with oats, minced bits of the rest of the sheep, and spices. The more it tastes like liver, the better.

If you’d like to see the piping in of the haggis or hear Jack recite the Ode, both are on our bookstore’s FB page:

Our excellent chef, Kelley, came up with what attendees probably saw as the counterbalance to the Haggis; she made perfect champit tatties and bashed neeps. And Jack contributed his homemade scotch pies and Cranachan. (Google it; just try not to lick the screen when you see what’s in it.)

Burns Nights have presentations that must take place at them. One of these is The Immortal Memory, a brief description of Burns’ life, mostly trying to reconcile the ying and yang of his incredible poetry celebrating women, and his devious usury of them in real life. This year’s Immortal Memory was for the first time in our bookstore’s history delivered by an Englishman, Donald Leech. (And Donald said afterward it was his first Burns Supper, so kudos to him for a lovely job.)  The Toast to the Lasses (which Jack gave) was  Responded to by Susan Hamrick–those of you who are on Clan Hazel will recognize that name, and the Grande Dame sent salutations to the assembly.

And we enjoyed local singer Rita Quillen making her debut as a soloist. Rita normally accompanies other performers, but she gave a lovely rendition of Lea Rig. Rita will also debut in another way next month when her first novel, Hiding Ezra, comes out.

The evening was a mixture of laughter and poking at the haggis and licking the Cranachan bowls clean and cracking jokes and enjoying music that would have delighted Rabbie Burns. In the packed-out cafe with the windows flung open and the sky darkening with snow outside, it was a lovely, warm night.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

11 responses to “It’s Not as Bad as it Sounds, Haggis…

  1. You weren’t kidding about the screen licking.

    • We once had a fully tenured professor pick up the nearly empty Cranachan serving bowl, stick her head inside, and lick it clean. She used her elbow to keep her husband away. Cranachan is good stuff!

  2. Jean Stewart

    I was going to write the very same thing – I’ts not a bad as it sounds – Haggis, that is. Had it in Edinburgh. Your evening sounds like so much fun! Would love to have been there! Jean Stewart

  3. rh

    My grandfather got off the boat from Scotland in 1910 – twice, actually, but that’s another story. We grew up with holiday meals that featured an oatmeal based dressing/stuffing that everyone but the Grands called “icky dressing.” It was our favorite then, and I make it now regardless of the calendar. It’s similar to mealie sausage but without the casing and, when I make it, lots more veg and more intact grains. Oddly, I have never eaten haggis, but I believe that mealie, a sausage that fundamentally relies on a form of Sausage Helper, is, in principle, “worse” than haggis. Kudos to the Scots who took the scraps of a rugged land and made a feast!

  4. Thanks so much for the invite and for the kind words here, Wendy. Teas a fun time…

  5. That was supposed to say Twas a fun time…

  6. Mario R.

    If Cranachan is good enough to use Glenmorangie in, it must be incredibly good, indeed. (^_^)

    As for haggis, the ingredients have always suggested to me it’s not entirely unlike scrapple. Good stuff, scrapple.

  7. James R

    Sounds great. As usual. Sorry I missed it this year.:( Will try again next year.

  8. “And a chorus of yums went ’round the table”
    It looks as if “scotch pies” are a thin-crusted pastie (pass-tee), rather more elegant though.
    I’ve had haggis once, in northern Scotland, and would love to have some more. I had to elbow my cats away from the screen… Thanks for the appetite whetter!

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