1992 was the first time I experienced a Burns supper. Pretty fresh off the boat, metaphorically speaking, I had no idea what to expect so kilts, sharp sporrans and incomprehensible poems left me confused and amused in equal measure. I took to haggis immediately but have still to be convinced about cranachan. Since, I have been to several Burns suppers: intimate ones at friends, formal ones with ballgowns and speeches, and ones somewhere in between.
I’m a haggis fan. Not only is it tasty, it is also easy to cook with and can be turned into a lot of interesting dishes. Last week, I received a Burns supper care package from Macsween with instant veggie haggis slices, whisky sauce and Innis & Gunn beer. Dinner was sorted!
I’ve seen the instant haggis slices in the shop but haven’t tried them before. They look like something you’d buy for a fry-up and my horror of that dish has put me off. I need to get over my fear: they only take a minute in the microwave, so they are brilliantly quick and fuss free. And they taste just as good as pudding-shaped haggis. Two slices are perfect if you have lots of mash and veg on the plate; if you’re hungry, go for three.
With our quick haggis, I served a mash of sweet and white potatoes, steamed broccoli, sweetcorn and Macsween whisky sauce that I’d added some fried-down mushrooms to. Usually, a Burns supper is brown, orange and cream in colour. The green and yellow on my plate might not be traditional but add colour and texture. I particularly like sweetcorn with mash and haggis. The little yellow seeds pop with delicious sweetness, very nice against the soft, peppery haggis.
A traditional Burns supper, comes in three parts:
- Soup. Vegetable or Scotch broth are appropriate, as is cock-a-leekie.
- Haggis, neeps and tatties.
The dishes are interspersed with poetry readings and performances. The address to the haggis is always included but, from my experience, other poetry is optional. Burns suppers are about getting together as much as celebrating the poet. A Burns supper is a hearty meal that sets you up perfectly for a ceillidh. If you like haggis and cranachan, you end up consuming a lot of oats, so a bit of exercise after is welcome. When serving supper at home, where there will be no ceilidh, I make sure there was a lot of veg and make the cranachan with more raspberries than cream.
But haggis isn’t just for Burns suppers. We regularly have it as a normal mid-week dinner, sometimes as it is, with mash, sometimes used as the base in a lasagna or cottage pie. I reviewed the Macsween Haggis Bible a couple of years ago: it’s a great resource of creative haggis recipes. Macsween do several interesting varieties of the noble pudding. As well as traditional and veggie haggis, they now sell venison, wild boar and three-bird haggis. The Moroccan spiced veggie haggis sounds lovely (check out Danielle’s recipe too). Macsween also do black pudding and I’m intrigued by the chocolate and chili version. If you’re reluctant to try haggis, try the beef and haggis burgers. They’d make a great BBQ addition. The veggie haggis I tried was from the ‘in a hurry’ range which includes meat and veggie haggis and black pudding.
Burns supper at home don’t have to be fussy. There’s still time to get haggis for dinner this evening – the ‘in a hurry’ slices only take a minute – and a pouch of whisky sauce speeds things up. With a bottle of Innis & Gunn, the evening is sorted. Poetry is optional.