As local groups celebrate the life and work of Robbie Burns this week, a Scottish delicacy the bard found especially pleasing, will take centre stage before the Highland dancing and bagpiping begin.
“Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware that jaups in luggies:
“But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer, Gie her a Haggis.”
Robbie Burns has been six feet under for 220 years. But his written work titled “Address to a Haggis,” forever links the famous poet to his appreciation for haggis, a traditional Scottish fare.
Widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland, Burns’ words translate to, “Old Scotland wants no watery stuff, that splashes in small wooden dishes. But if you wish her grateful prayer, give her (Scotland) a haggis!”
Friends of the Bard of Ayrshire began gathering after his untimely death at age 37, reciting his ode before digging into the offal dish.
Therein began the long held practice of reading the address before Robbie Burns commemoration affairs.
The custom jumped continents as immigrants made their way to North America and became part of localized events – like the annual Robbie Burns dinner at the Trail Legion on Saturday.
For 15 years the job of sourcing up to 100 pounds of haggis for community events has fallen to Trail bagpipe legend, Gordon Titsworth.
“Sheeps and cows are the vessel and the contents are the things they (Scotsmen) would grow locally,” he said. “And being Scottish,they don’t waste a lot,” Titsworth chuckled. “There would be offal and a mixture of other things, sometimes mutton. But more what we’ve come to flavour ours with, is beef.”
Depending upon who you ask, haggis is described as a savoury pudding or grand Scottish sausage, though Titsworth says it’s the latter.
Tasting the meaty delicacy and choosing the final product is somewhat of an art. But for the Trail Pipe Band president, the practise is as sentimental as it is connoisseurial.
“I remember when I was a kid the band held the Burns night at the Local 480 Hall,” he recalled. “There was always haggis from somewhere, though I don’t know where it came from back then. Haggis is made differently depending upon who’s making it – but it’s always been a tradition.”
Titsworth usually orders his haggis from a producer in Fife. Logistics forced him to find another local source this year, though the end result was just as pleasing – flavoursome haggis made by a meat market in Kaslo.
“It will be part of the main plate on Saturday night, and some people like me, will take much more haggis than others,” he emphasized. “But I really like it.”
National dish aside, it’s not a stretch to say the key ingredients of traditional haggis, being sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs), minced onions, oatmeal suet and spices all contained in an animal’s stomach – may not immediately appeal to younger palates.
But some adventuresome local youth recently had a taste, and Titsworth says a few of them even came back for seconds.
Last fall, he was special guest for an after-school program at the Trail and District Public Library, called “Passport to the World.”
“They invite someone from a different culture each week,” Titsworth explained. “So I cooked up some haggis and brought it down.
“After I told the kids what it was, there were some who didn’t want to try it at all,” he chuckled. “And some who came back for several plates.”
Haggis can be steamed or baked, though Titsworth prefers the steaming method to lock the moisture in the casing.
“I tend to like mine that way,” he added.
“At the Legion we serve extra gravy because a lot of people like to have the flavour of the haggis mixed in.”
Besides haggis, plates at the Trail Legion dinner are piled high with roast beef, “neeps and tatties” (turnips and potatoes) and for some, a dram, otherwise known as a glass of Scotch whiskey.
Though servings are usually polished off at the Robbie Burns event, Titsworth says haggis is particularly tasty the following morning.
“If by any chance you can find leftover haggis,” he shared.
“You put it in your frying pan and then fry your eggs on top of it – it’s wonderful.”
For information about the Robbie Burns dinner and dance, presented Jan. 23 by the Trail Legion and Trail Pipe Band, contact the branch at 364.1422.
Another little known fact is that haggis has been unavailable south of the border since 1971. The ban was issued when the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) declared livestock lungs could not be used as human food.
The reasoning is not for the squeamish – fluids from the stomach, for example, could make its way into the lungs of an animal during the slaughtering process.
Because sheep lungs are a key ingredient in Scottish-made haggis, the product cannot be imported to the States.