Ooohhh… Juicy entrails…
Where did the idea come from that a person should stuff the innards of a sheep into said sheep’s stomach, jam in some oats and boil it for hours then eat the bloody thing? Possibly from the Irish? They gave us the bagpipes didn’t they? (They’re still laughing about it, too.)
Haggis is similar to the way we stuff our Thanksgiving turkeys, in consistency at least. It’s a kind of pudding, using the English term; it is savory and full of flavor. Haggis was my first meal when visiting Scotland several years ago. It was an excellent repast, one that I would gladly partake in again.
No one really knows just where Haggis originated, but it is generally attributed to Scotland. It is in fact considered the national dish of Scotland. This is mainly attributed to Robert Burns’ poem Address to a Haggis written in 1787:
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
His knife see rustic
Then, horn for horn,
Is there that owre his French ragout
Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
But mark the Rustic,
Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
|Glossary for: Address to a Haggis
(sonsie = jolly/cheerful)
(aboon = above)
(painch = paunch/stomach, thairm = intestine)
(hurdies = buttocks)
(dicht = wipe, here with the idea of sharpening)
(slicht = skill)
(reeking = steaming)
(deil = devil)
(swall’d = swollen, kytes = bellies, belyve = soon)
(bent like = tight as)
(auld Guidman = the man of the house,
rive = tear, i.e. burst)
(olio = stew, from Spanish olla’/stew pot,
staw = make sick)
(scunner = disgust)
(nieve = fist, nit = louse’s egg, i.e. tiny)
(wallie = mighty)
(sned = cut off)
(thristle = thistle)
(skinkin ware = watery soup)
(jaups = slops about, luggies = two-”eared” (handled) continental bowls)
Traditionally, Haggis is served with “Tatties and Neeps,” that is potatoes and rutabagas that have been boiled and mashed. (Personally though I prefer potatoes that are a bit thicker than the ones served to me in Edinburgh, and, ye kin kep yer neeps thankee very much.) Of course a wee dram o’ good Scotch would accompany this meal that is often served as the main course of a Robert Burns Supper. Other items will eat well with Haggis too. Fried eggs for one and maybe a good slab of a nice dark bread.
Returning to the origins of Haggis; Scotland, as stated before, is generally assumed to be the originating country even though there is little in the way of historical evidence to back this up.
The earliest known recipe is for a dish called ‘hagese’ and is found in the verse cookbook Liber Cure Cocorum dated about 1430 from Lancashire in North West England. There is an old Scottish poem Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy that is dated prior to 1520 in which the writers refer to ‘haggeis.’ And again, there are references to a Haggis sort of dish in France that can be specifically traced to a hard date. A dish named Andouillette that is made with tripe was served at the coronation of King Louis II in Troyes on September 7, 878.
The Romans, too, ate a dish of the Haggis type and in Book 20 of Homer’s Odyssey from the eighth century before Christ an early version of Haggis like food is referred to; “a man before a great blazing fire turning swiftly this way and that a stomach full of fat and blood, very eager to have it roasted quickly.” Still others, Clarissa Dickson Wright for example, firmly believe that Haggis came from Scandinavian beginnings.
Whatever the origin is, Haggis came about out of necessity. People were poor; nothing was wasted, there was no way of preserving food, so every bit had to be used quickly. The poorer cuts and scraps of meat left from butchering, along with the internal organs were prepared and cooked quickly in order to preserve the valuable food. This type of food would be made at the site of a hunt, the slain animal would be butchered, the leftover meat bits and usable organs were stuffed into the stomach and boiled in a pot made from the hide. This made for easier transportation of the meat. Most likely, this type of meal has been prepared as long as we’ve had fire. Scots just do it best!
Without hard facts, folklore has provided varied explanations for Haggis. One is the when the men left to drive their cattle to market the wives would pack victuals for them to take along. Haggis was one such victual. It was precooked and easy to carry. Another tale is that when the chieftain or laird ordered the slaughter of a sheep or cow the butcher was allowed to keep offal (awful?) as his share if the kill. The best tale that I came across is that a haggis is actually a small Scottish animal that has a leg longer on one side so it can run along the steep hill of the highlands and not fall over. (Can you say ‘snipe’?) I guess these critters always had to run in the same direction to keep it‘s short legs on the uphill side.
Nowadays Haggis is available in supermarkets throughout Scotland. The less expensive brands are usually packed in artificial casings rather that stomachs; it also is available in cans. Someone even came up with a vegetarian version but I cannot for the life of me figure out why. Supermarket Haggis is usually made with pig instead of sheep offal. In Scotland the fast food chains serve Haggis battered, dipped, and deep fried or as a burger with a slice of Haggis fried and put on a bun. You can even get Haggis Pakora in Indian restaurants in Scotland. (I NEED to go back to Scotland.) In the upper end restaurants in Scotland a dish is served that is known as the “Flying Scotsman” in which a chicken breast is stuffed with Haggis. Wrap it in bacon and you have “Chicken Balmoral.” Wow! Haggis is also used to substitute for minced beef in various recipes.
In 1971, a ban was placed on the importation of Haggis into the United States because it contains about 10-15% sheep lung. In 1989, the US banned all beef and lamb from the UK because of the BSE crisis (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or mad cow disease). In 2010 the USDA said that they were reviewing this ban but that the prohibition on sheep lung imports would remain.
While many take Haggis very seriously, Haggis is sort of a joke to some folks so it figures that sporting events would be forthcoming which includes the abuse of Haggis. It is known as Haggis
Hurling and involves the throwing of a Haggis as far as possible. The world record at this time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is held by one Alan Pettigrew. In 1984, he chucked a .68kg (1.5 lb) Haggis 55.12m (180 feet) on the island of Inchmurrin, Loch Lomond. Eric Steakbellie” Livingston, a competitive eater, set another world record in October of 2008 when he devoured 1.4kg (3 lb) of Haggis in 8 minutes on WMMR radio in Philadelphia.
The Selkirk Grace:
Some hae meat and canna eat
And some wad eat that want it
But we hae meat, and we can eat
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
Recipe to make your own Haggis
The following is a recipe for Haggis: (make sure that stomach is empty) A champion Haggis should be firm and slightly sticky, with no tendency to dry out or crumble too much. Most traditional Scottish butchers sell their own home made Haggis and guard the recipe fiercely. Ours is from the Glasgow Cookery Book from around 1926. Be aware that this recipe includes lungs and windpipes and other things that don’t tend to appear in cut out ‘n’ keep recipe cards. If you want to avoid these gruesome bits or aren’t allowed to eat them (hello, America!), try the Haggis-lite recipe instead. (Ignore people who tell you to put a rock in with your simmering Haggis then throw out the beast and eat the rock - they are
Phillistines with no sense for the finer things in life.)
1 sheep’s pluck i.e. the animals heart, liver, and lights (lungs)
1 sheep’s stomach (empty)
1lb lightly toasted pinhead oatmeal (medium or coarse oatmeal)
1-2 Tablespoons salt
1 level Tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon freshly ground allspice
1 level Tablespoon of mixed herbs
8 oz finely chopped suet
4 large onions, finely chopped
(Lemon juice (or good vinegar) is sometimes added as well as other flavourings such as cayenne pepper)
• Wash the stomach in cold water until it is thoroughly clean and then soak it in cold salted water for about 8-10 hours.
• Place the pluck in a large pot and cover with cold water. The windpipe ought to be hung over the side of the pot with a container beneath it in order to collect any drips. Gently simmer the pluck for approximately 2 hours or until it is tender
and then leave the pluck to cool.
• Finely chop or mince the pluck meat and then mix it with the oatmeal. Add about half a pint of the liquor in which the pluck was cooked (or use a good stock). Add the seasonings, suet and onions, ensuring everything are well mixed.
• Fill the stomach with the mixture, leaving enough room for the oatmeal to expand into. Press out the air and then sew up the haggis. Prick the haggis a few times with a fine needle. Place the haggis in boiling water and simmer for
approximately three (3) hours.