Eat, Drink and Be Scottish: It’s Time to Celebrate Robert Burns’s Birthday
by By Perri O. Blumberg
For someone who spent countless hours studying Robert Burns, the renowned Scottish poet and a father of Romanticism, in her modern poetry class in college, it’s amazing that I’d never heard about a festive supper dedicated to the bard on January 25th (believed to be his birthday). I read about it in “Drinking Like A Poet,” in the New York Times Magazine‘s “Drink” column this weekend. Like any good meal, it serves as an excellent excuse to tip many a liquor-filled glass, as the courses are punctuated with toasts to the bard and the reading aloud of verses of his poetry.
HOW TO EAT
All you really need to host your own historic Burns’ Supper is the iconic haggis, which Burns described as the “great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race.” And what, pray tell, is this? According to Wikipedia, it’s “A savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a sausage casing rather than an actual stomach.” I’m don’t know about you, but I think I’ll be subbing the traditional centerpiece with this tantalizing veggie Haggis.
Haggis, is traditionally served with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes, but I’ll stick to the local slang) and I’m lusting over the looks of this spin of mashed potatoes with rutabaga from Chow. And for a mouthwatering Cock-a-leekie Soup (look that one up on your own), look no further than this easy recipe that involves just 10 minutes of prep time. To indulge your sweet tooth, try delectable fare like Clootie Dumplings, a pudding prepared in a linen cloth or “cloot.” I’ll be attempting to whip up Great Great Granny Kerr’s Clootie Dumpling recipe or perhaps Tipsy Laird, a Scottish sherry trifle consisting of raspberries, egg custard, pound cake, whipped cream and bourbon (all of which I’m more than amenable to making my 5 major food groups).
HOW TO DRINK
Ye havin a bevvy the nite? Burns’ would surely roll over in his grave if he knew you were drinking anything other than whiskey on this festive evening. We’re partial to Glenlivet single malt Scotch whiskey, but liberal pours of any old whiskey will do. As custom has it, many Burns’ Supper revelers douse the Haggis with a generous splash of whiskey sauce, just be careful you don’t overdo it and render your dish soggy (or your guests sloppy…no pun intended). P.S. “Tanned” is Scottish slang for “drunk.”
HOW TO BE MERRY
Traditional toasts (and roasts) make up an integral part of the festivities, with excerpts from Burns’ works (My love is like a red, red rose, anyone?) entertaining the guests as the night gently pivots towards a festive buzz. There’s a full entertainment itinerary–from The Address to the Haggis, to the Toast to the Lassies, and the Reply from the Lassies–here. Got any friends who play the bagpipes on the side? Yeah, us too, phew. The Haggis is traditionally carted into the dining room with bagpipes accompanying it, but if none of the ladies and gents at your supper know how to play ye olde bagpipes, there are plenty of great soundtracks to download. If you prefer something a little more mellifluous, try an audio recording of Robert Burns’ songs (great for dancing) or modern Scottish music for a trendier crowd. Don’t forget to top off your evening with a robust rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” and you’ll be partying like you’re in Edinburgh in no time!
You can also check out this comprehensive Burns’ Supper Guide from Scotland.org.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to gather up my favorite “drunkards and louts” for a celebration…