Although I will not be observing Burns night this year, I did for the first time three years ago, made possible be finally obtaining a true haggis.
My friend Straz used to work for Orange, the British (now French) telecom company. He made frequent trips to the UK, returning with odd food items for me, a tradition he had started years before when we shared an apartment. (There will be a future photo essay post of the “odd food” collection.) Upon returning from an executive retreat in Scotland, he presented me with this:
He told me “Now you have no excuse, I’ve found a haggis for you.” But I did have an excuse: this haggis was in a can. It seemed wrong that my first haggis should be a convenience food found on a supermarket shelf. I realized that I had no way to make my own haggis from scratch, but I wanted to procure a homemade haggis. (The ingredients as listed on the can lead me to believe that it contains a true haggis, merely one that is preserved for longer shelf life. It is now four years past its expiration date; so I may finally open the can to verify the contents.)
I had heard from some of my caber-tossing, kilt-wearing hardcore Scots friends that I could get a haggis at the annual summer Highland Games in New Hampshire, or I could hook up with the mysterious purveyor who took orders and then delivered to selected rest areas on route I95. I would be notified by email about which weekend the delivery run would occur, and I would have to be at the rest stop between the posted hours to receive my haggis.
I discussed this option, making jokes about illicit haggis running, but had resolved to place an order soon. One friend told me “If you get a haggis, all you have to do is call me and say ‘I dare you to come for dinner.'” This was a reference to a Mike Meyers SNL sketch in which Kyle McLachlan declares “Haggis, oat cakes, blood sausage – all Scottish cuisine is based on a dare.”
Before I could place my order, Savenor’s Market – a butcher shop made famous as Julia Child’s meat purveyor – reopened after a fire years before. While browsing through the freezer case where the more unusual fare – ostrich, bear, boar, elk – was kept, I found what looked like a paper-covered, shrinkwrapped softball. Written on the label was “#1 haggis.”
I took it to the front counter and asked the woman at the register “Is this really a haggis?”
She looked at it, then shouted “Tommy!” toward the back of the store. (With the local townie accent, it was more like “Tawwmy!”)
“Is this a haggis?”
A head poked out of the back room: “Yup.”
I paid for it, but while she was bagging I asked the clerk “Do you have any idea how it should be cooked?”
“How do you cook it?”
No head appeared this time: “Internet.”
I found a recipe for the haggis, as well as for the traditional neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes, both mashed) to accompany it. Then I made a phone call:
“I dare yo to come for dinner Saturday night.”
After a long pause: “You found one?”
“Aye, now gae ye here.”
It was a very simple dinner to prepare. Once the haggis was thawed and unwrapped, it looked like this:
After cooking in a covered pot of simmering water for 40 minutes, it looked like this:
I also cooked a samll roast beef, both as a fallback for the faint of heart, and as a source of gravy for the neeps and tatties. While reciting Burns’ “Address to a Haggis,” I cut it open with a dagger:
Openend up all the way:
How did it taste? Like heavily spiced scrapple, but with less filler. Di and Jamie thought it tasted metallic – no doubt due to the high iron content of the organs – but John and I thought it was just right. There was enough for four of us as a side dish to the beef. I’ve had blood sausages and black puddings since then, the haggis compares favorably to those delicacies.
I haven’t seen a haggis at Savenor’s on my return trips, but I check the freezer every time I go.
Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinkin ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a haggis!