Traditional Scottish fare, as far as I’m concerned, is largely made up of Beige Food. I’ve had this discussion with plenty of people and challenged them to come up with anything Scottish that refutes this. Other than Raspberries (which are grown in Scotland and plenty of other places the world over), it can’t be done. Oat-cakes, potatoes, turnips, porridge, shortbread, whisky, haggis…Even our skin is of the paste-y hue. Different gradations they may be, but all are undeniably variations on the theme of Beige.
Most people would shudder at the very thought of a nation defined by heavy, blandly-coloured food with not a green stalk or exotically-coloured spice in sight. But not us. What do we do? Embrace this challenge to our digestive system by proudly combining haggis, turnips and potatoes into one National Meal. Eaten on the birthday of our National Poet Robert Burns, this double whammy of nationalism ensures that anyone with any connection to Scotland – or even a loose curiosity about men in kilts and the perils of whisky-drinking – will throw dietary caution to the wind. Following a rousing Address to a Haggis we will spectacularly consume as much food-the-colour-of-nicotine as is possible in one evening, wash it down with the amber nectar and feel united as a nation and all the stronger for it.
I for one am guilty of shoe-horning a bit of lettuce into every meal bar breakfast, but Friday night was Burns Night and so the salad drawer was shunned and I instead got busy with the tattie masher. Having prepared numerous Burns Suppers in the past I knew what to do, but for anyone who hasn’t, it really isn’t hard. As long as you can peel vegetables and follow a clock for 45 minutes you’re pretty much set. But for those of you who need convincing as to the ease and wisdom of eating sheep entrails packed into an intestine and purchased at supermarkets the nation over, here is an outline of the preparation that went into Friday’s perfect low-key Burns Supper.
Cranachan was on the menu for dessert and I decided to make this first. Possibly the easiest dessert in the world, the basic recipe is beat, mash and pummel raspberries, cream and toasted oats together, fire in some whisky and honey and posh it up by sticking the mixture into individual serving glasses. Job done. Anyone who can’t manage this I expect to see on the next Darwin Award list.
That over, it was time for the Main Event.
Weirdly, this year Husband requested a vegetarian haggis. I was surprised because normally he’s The Most Carnivorous Of Them All. But Burns Night is no place for snobbery and if a grateful prayer was to be had (by me, from Husband) then “gie [him] a haggis” I would, even if a vegetarian one.
So. My Ingredients: haggis (freshly hunted down and caught at Sainsbury’s), tatties (Scottish), neeps (Scottish again) and, because I can’t just leave things alone, carrots and a parsnip to make the neeps into a “medley of root vegetables”. My granny would turn in her grave to hear how I’ve bastardised the traditional ‘neeps’ element…but I call it Progress.
Preparation of vegetables was easy, other than (for me) the Peeling stage. Despite my purchase of an easy-peel tool I can’t shake my technique of peeling vegetables as though it’s WWII and I’m using some sort of trench-issue paring knife. Given my track record of mistaking my own skin for vegetable skin I really should try harder to get to grips with this modern amenity. Anyway, this took longer than necessary.
Preparation of the sonsie-faced beast was another cinch: Wrap it in foil, place it in water, roast for 45 minutes. Excellent.
All ready and it was time for the beast to be piped in to the table. Lacking in pipes, we continued to play the tunes that were already spinning. Once at the table, however, silence befell and the Great Chieftain o’ my house stood to address the Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin’ Race.
Addressing the Haggis and, specifically, setting about the cratur with a blade is the highlight of Burns Night and this was no exception. The beast was revered, then “cut…up wi’ ready slight, Trenching…entrails gushing bright” and, finally, it was time to eat.
But what to drink? Well, whisky, obviously. Alas the Talisker was finished (no idea who was responsible for that…) so Lagavulen 16 was drafted in from our whisky cellar to take its place. Drams poured, we also saw no reason why Tennent’s Lager shouldn’t be included. It is Scottish after all, and a derivative of the colour beige, and I’d successfully procured two “presentation glasses” which seemed befitting of the occasion.
We both ate, drank and basked in the beauty and wonder of all things Scottish, toasted absent friends (one in particular) and gave thanks to all that we have. Rounded off with my here’s-one-I-made-earlier cranachan and another dram I’d say I did my nation proud, and Scotland’s grateful prayer was mine. Husband’s certainly was.