*Sassenach: “The Gaelic term for a Saxon. Survives in modern day Ireland and Scotland as a derogatory term for an English person…”
Lets Talk About Scotland
What comes to mind when you think of the food of Scotland? For me it’s Haggis, single malt Scotch Whiskey, kiln smoked salmon, coarsely ground porridge and the mysterious glowing orange substance that is Irn-Bru…
After this inevitably follows a series of mental images that combines the NHS’ worst case scenario of entire families dining on deep fried Mars Bars (not as delicious as the idea sounds, legit). And then the (slightly more antiquated) image of large, orange bearded men wielding claymores and charging headfirst into rows of English bayonets. Or the Picts, who were one of the few people that the Romans just could not be arsed to subjugate.
(I’m sure there’s other stuff but it’s too early in the morning and I’m coming up short here.)
This is not the Scotland of today, really. The Scotland of today is much more toned down, a bit less ginger (but still the most ginger place in the world) with a notable absence of claymores. I think the Mars Bars are still a thing in certain parts of Glasgow. In the place of Highland Charges there’s the stuff that you see everywhere else in Western Europe. Apple hardware, flatscreen TVs, fuel efficient Japanese cars and y’know…football violence.
One thing that does remain decidedly and distinctly Scottish is the venerable tradition of Burns Night. And generally nobody has to get hit in the face with a claymore to celebrate it…
I Don’t Need An Excuse To Eat Haggis And Drink Whiskey But If I Did…
What’s Burns Night about then? Well, in case you didn’t know, it’s an excuse to revel in your Scottishness (even if you don’t have any – you can invent some), and celebrate the birthday of Scottish poet, Robert Burns, much beloved amongst the Scots.
Burns was, by many accounts, one of the most Scottish people in existence. He even wrote a poem entitled ‘The Address To A Haggis‘, which, although someone incomprehensible to those who speak ‘English English’ (and probably most modern Scots) – gives you an idea of we’re going here.
Anyway, two months ago (this is a retrospective, afterall!) I decided to try and get in on the Hebridean fun too.
To do this, I decided it was time to issue a Food Challenge, which resulted in me getting my hands on two very Scottish things (ones that you’re probably not meant to combine but my resources are limited and hey I’m doing my best here)
The first… some of Macsween‘s Haggis (of which apparently only 2500 or so were made) – which were available from Selfridges. I got two of them, the Three Bird Roast (which is a haggis and a three bird roast AT THE SAME TIME) and the Staggis (which, like many good things in life, is made from venison).
On the other hand I have a few whiskeys to compare. These include…
The Singleton of Dufftown (a much loved Speyside classic)
Aldi’s Glen Orrin (which picked up a silver award in a blind taste test at the IWSC 2013, don’t you know!)
Plus some delectable (and 48%+ ABV) samples from Glen Garioch (which is the most artisan of the three…)
Here’s another thing you can do with whiskey…
Asides from the very obvious method of drinking your ‘wee dram’ (neat or on the rocks of course) – another way to really enjoy whiskey is by taking a square of very dark chocolate (think 75%+) and chewing it in until it starts to melt (but don’t swallow it yet!).
Then, with the chocolate melting away, take a sip of your whiskey and let the flavours fight for your tongue’s attention. They should finally settle on something between ‘afterburn’ and ‘bittersweet’. And, what you might find is that the ‘burn’ of the whiskey is diffused somewhat by the chocolate, like in a cocktail, but the various heavier notes of the chocolate are now brought out by the potency of the whiskey. And if you let it sit in there it gets stronger 😀
Combine whiskeys ’til you find the perfect combination of chocolate and firewater. Then get freaky.
…and here’s a few things you might not know about Burns Night
Since I was doing the Burns thing, and on an obsessive note, I decided to get in touch with Dr Pauline Mackay, Lecturer in Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow . She is, understandably, one of the world leading authorities on Robbie Burns, and despite probably having no idea who I am, was more than happy to endure my barrage of questions..
Burns suppers have their roots in eighteenth/nineteenth-century Freemasonry…
…although there are also elements of earlier celebrations of Scottish writers in, for instance, the Cape Club of Robert Fergusson.
It is commonly believed that the first Burns supper was held in Alloway on 21st July 1801 (the fifth anniversary of Burns’s death)…
…A gathering of nine men payed tribute to Burns’s memory by reading from Burns’s works, toasting his memory, and dining on Haggis. They agreed to meet again in the January of the following year to celebrate Burns’s birth, and it is thought that the tradition developed from there.
The Piping Of The Haggis is a tradition that developed over time…
…as the Burns supper evolved from its original set of quasi-masonic rituals. Piping in the haggis parallels the way in which the poem ‘Address to the Haggis’ works: much comical ado is made about the dish, although along with this comedy, there is at the same time a serious point, that this is hale and hearty food worthy of celebration.
Burns also wrote and collected around twice as many songs as the number of poems he composed…
…he was apparently something of a musicologist as well.