A Tale of Haggis

Take a close look....vegetarian haggis? Isn't that an oxymoron?

Strolling through the Notting Hill market during my recent trip to London, I did not see Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts.  I did, however, see a sign in a butcher’s stall for haggis.  I had to take a picture of the sign.  Then I peered around to the front of the stall to see if there actually was haggis for sale.  Well, lo and behold, there it was.

Microwavable haggis.

I had to buy it.  Discovering that the two-slice package cost just one pound, I had to buy two.  I told the butcher that my husband has been threatening for years to make haggis.  The butcher laughed, “That’s quite a threat.”  He sold me the haggis, assuring me that it would be fine for the flight home.   And it was.  I…..um…..did not declare it when I went through customs.  (It was hermetically sealed.  It was fine.)  Come to find out, though, that until 2010 haggis was not permitted to come into the country.  It may have had something to do with mad cow disease, or perhaps U.S. Customs decided that we just have certain aesthetic standards to uphold.

The friendly haggis-selling butcher

John was delighted with my gift to him.  For all his culinary threats, he had never actually tasted haggis before.  So now he has.  As have I.  It’s basically Scottish scrapple.  He loves it.  I am happy for him.

And who knew there were so many ways to serve it?  According to the serving suggestions on the package, it is not only great as an accompaniment to bacon and eggs (although a bit redundant), it makes a great topper on baked potatoes, or for lunch served on a hamburger bun.  The inside label contains the MacSween Original Award Winning Recipe for Haggis Nachos.  Who knew haggis was so versatile?

For those uninitiated folk who are wondering what the heck haggis is, I offer the ingredients list from the MacSween (Guardians of Scotland’s National Dish) Haggis package:  lamb offal, beef fat, oatmeal, water, onion, salt, pepper, spices.  Except for that first ingredient, it sounds pretty tame.

Offal.  Hmm…a little foray into denotation and conotation is in order.  According to the Meriam-Webster dictionary, offal is “the waste or by-product of a process, esp. the viscera and trimmings of a butchered animal removed in dressing.”  That would sound an “awful” like what goes into scrapple or hotdogs.  According to our in-house haggis researcher John, the MacSween company would probably narrow that down to organ meats such as heart, liver, and lungs.  Americans throw that stuff away, but the rest of the world does eat it.  Anything that sounds that awful and is pronounced as such gets a bit of a negative connotation on this side of the Pond.

Ah, but haggis is what makes Scotland great.  (I know I was in England, but so were the Greeks, the Arabs, the Poles, the Irish, the French, and every one else on the planet.)  Haggis is so important to the Scots (and there are six million people of Scottish descent in the U.S., including the Hereford Zone), that the famous Scot poet Robert Burns wrote a poem about it.  Bear with me as we get literary…

Address To A Haggis

Fair full your honest, jolly face,

Great chieftain of the sausage race!

Above them all you take your place,

Stomach, tripe, or intestines:

Well are you worthy of a grace

As long as my arm.

(The rhymes work better in the original version, but you can get a feel for it nonetheless.  After some delightful verses about buttocks, “gushing entrails bright,” and swollen bellies, Burns goes on to compare the pathetic food that the “Master of the house” eats to the hearty haggis that the clearly superior rustic Scotch labourer eats…)

Poor devil!  see him over his trash,

As feeble as a withered rush,

His thin legs a good whip-lash,

His fist a nut;

Through bloody flood or field to dash,

O how unfit.

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,

The trembling earth resounds his tread,

Clap in his ample fist a blade,

He will make it whistle;

And legs, and arms, and heads will crop

Like tops of thistle.

You powers, who make mankind your care,

And dish them out their bill of fare,

Old Scotland want no watery ware,

That splashes in small wooden dishes;

But if you wish her grateful prayer,

Give her a haggis!

This should really be read with a hearty voice and a Scottish accent, preferably with a glass of single malt in hand.

If you want to read the full poem, I direct you to http://www.worldburnsclub.com/poems/translations/address_t0_a_haggis.htm

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7 thoughts on “A Tale of Haggis

  1. I was surprised at how oaty and spicy it was. Not too bad for something cooked in a lamb’s stomach! I tried to order blood sausage one time in Paris, but the waiter/owner wouldn’t let me. : ) My husband tried it on a subsequent visit and his comment was, “Well, I can say I’ve had it.” This from a man who will eat anything.

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  2. Ah haggis! My partner is Scottish so every year on Burns Night we eat it. Usually accompanied with mashed neeps (swedes) and tatties (potatoes) plus baked beans.

    The original poem has the line ‘Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!’ rather than sausage. I think back then what they called puddings were more often savoury, for instance mince-meat, the fruity stuff we put in mince pies now, used to actually have meat in it.

    Have you tried black pudding yet?

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    • Emily, I do have the original words but Americans would associate pudding with a dessert made with milk. What is in black pudding? And what is a swede? My daughter in London is adjusting to feeding the babe porridge instead of oatmeal. And he dribbles instead of drooling. In the States dribbling is what one does with a basketball.
      So….do you like haggis or just eat it to make your Scotsman happy?

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      • Ah…black pudding is a type of blood sausage often eaten at breakfast time as part of a fry-up. Swedes are like turnips. They are orange when mashed.

        Haggis has grown on me. It seems more oaty than meaty, and I like oats. But I wasn’t sure about it at first!

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