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Bard's ritual, with haggis

Email|Print| Text size + By Betsa Marsh
Travel Arts Syndicate / December 26, 2004

What, you haven't been invited to one of the thousands of Burns Night Dinners staged by Burns societies around the world for the poet's birthday, Jan. 25?

Don't worry, you can create a bit of Old Scotland anywhere with just a few ingredients: haggis, neeps, tatties, bagpipes, and lots of Robert Burns's verses.

Haggis, of course, is the Scottish peasant dish of lamb's liver or pork offal, oatmeal, onion, and spices steamed inside a sheep's stomach. Specialty grocers stock it around Burns Night. It is often served with a red currant and whisky sauce, and accompanied by neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes).

The dinner is highly ritualized, with an emcee, often a professional Burns Night performer, toasting the bard with whiskey and the line, ''The Immortal Memory."

Then a speaker intones the Selkirk Grace, attributed to Burns:

Some hae meat, and canna eat.And some wad eat that want it,But we have meet and we can eat,And sae the Lord be thankit.

The first course is often cock-a-leekie (leek) soup or cullen skink, a cream soup of smoked haddock. Then a bagpiper pipes as the steaming haggis is brought in, and someone offers Burns's address ''To a Haggis," which he wrote in Edinburgh to praise peasant food and ridicule the pretensions of the Scottish aristocracy.

''Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face," he wrote, ''Great chieftan o' the pudding race!"

The haggis is followed by ''roastit" beef, clootie dumpling, and Dunlop cheese. The dumpling is a rich fruit pudding named for the clooot (cloth) it is steamed in.

Burns's readings and songs continue throughout the evening. Interspersed are the other requisite toasts, ''To the Ladies," ''To the Gentlemen," and ''To Our Land," before the Burns Night wraps up sometime the next day.

BETSA MARSH

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