Burns Night

25 Jan
Procure a sheep’s pluck

January. It’s nearly the end of January already, but before the end we have one last celebration.

Most of January is a time for hunkering down and hibernating. Whoever thought that January was the time to start dieting, to start telling yourself that you should forego some of the things you love to eat didn’t live in rural Scotland. I’m all in favour of taking stock and putting in place whatever you need to be the best you can be this coming year, but please don’t make your new year be all about giving things up. We need nourishment in January. And we need to feed our heads and our hearts, as well as our bellies.

In Scotland we have two main celebrations in January: New Year’s Day (which is often marked by a severe hangover from Hogmanay the night before) and Burns Night. The traditional fare for a Burns Night is of course haggis, neeps and tatties. Many of you might think that it doesn’t sound like much of a celebration to eat turnips, potatoes and a savoury pudding made from the cheapest (and possibly most disgusting) bits of a sheep, but I love this meal, and it is absolutely perfect January food. It is food that nourishes us in these dark wintery weeks, and it makes use of about the only vegetable which is locally and seasonally available in Scotland right now – the turnip (some of you may call it a swede). Traditionally I guess we’d drink whisky with it, but if you’re not a purist, then red wine works a treat with haggis.

Ball haggis in natural casing, from our local butchers, J&H Cairns

Mum gave me her copy of The Scots Kitchen by F Marian McNeill (first published 1929) this Christmas. I didn’t even know we had it on our shelves (or I might have ‘borrrowed’ it sooner). In it, FMN includes “Meg Dods’s suggested bill of fare for St Andrew’s Day, Burns clubs, or other Scottish national dinners” and I don’t know what I was expecting but it certainly was not the elaborate menu shared below, with its Brown Fricassee of Duck, Crimped Skate and Rich Eating Posset in a China Punch Bowl. And that’s all before you’ve tackled ‘A Black Cock, or three Ptarmigan’. Anyway, I’m not suggesting you go full Burns Night banquet a la Meg Dods, but please do treat yourself to haggis, neeps and tatties at least once each year.

Meg Dods’s suggested Bill of Fare

In future posts there will be more on FMN and her Scots Kitchen, and probably more on Meg Dods (and her relationship to Walter Scott) if you’re interested.

In my mother’s handwritten recipe book, my favourite of all recipes was her Great Aunt Janey’s recipe for haggis, which starts ‘First procure a sheep’s pluck….’. A few years ago I was given the original recipe book in Great Aunt Janey’s hand, written for my Gran for her 40th birthday (in 1944). There are other, perhaps more useful, recipes in this wee black book, but for me none can surpass the haggis recipe.

No actual recipe this week, as I figure if you want to cook haggis, neeps and tatties you probably already know how. But if you want to look through my various tried and tested recipes for everything from Apple Chutney to Winter Salad, have a look here.

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