Burns Night is drawing closer – Monday 25th January – so I thought a bit of haggis research was needed.
This Sunday will be my only day off available to go on my traditional haggis shoot. Last year we had a bumper haul but the recent snow may have caused problems and they may still be hiding away in their burrows.
The origins are thought to be Scottish but there seems to be a lack of historical evidence that points to its origin in any one place or nation.
A haggis can and should be enjoyed at any time, but on Burns Night it is particularly celebrated. Traditionally, there is a ritual address to the haggis, where it is paraded into the room, escorted by a bagpiper and by someone waving two bottles of whiskey. The ‘Ode To The Haggis’ (Robert Burns) is recited and the haggis is stabbed at a precise moment in the poem. There is then a toast before the haggis is eaten.
Piping in the haggis
The first recorded haggis recipes.
The first known English cookery book is “The Form Of Cury” , written in 1390 by one of the cooks to King Richard II. It contains a recipe for a dish called Afronchemoyle, which is in effect a haggis:
“Nym Eyren with al the wyte myse bred scheps talwe, get as dyse grynd pepr safron caste thereto do hit in the schepys trype. Set it wel, dress it forth.”
In other words: take eggs, with the white and the yolk together, and mix with white breadcrumbs and finely diced sheep’s fat. Season with pepper and saffron. Stuff a sheep’s tripe with the mixture, sewing securely. Steam or boil and drain before serving. The saffron would give the mixture a golden colour, while the swelling bread would give a firm forcemeat.
The first know written recipe for dish called ‘hagese’ is in the verse cookbook “Libre Cure Cocorum” dating from around 1430 in Lancashire.
“For hagese be hert of schepe, be nere bou take, bo bowel nought bou shall forsake. On be turbilen made, and boyled wele, hacke alle togeder with gode persole.”
The Scottish poem “Flying Of Dunbar And Kennedy”, which is dated before 1520 refers to “haggeis”.
According to the historian Catherine Brown, a haggis recipe was published in an English book, called The English Hus-Wife, by Gervase Markham, published in 1615, almost 200 years before any evidence of the dish in Scotland. This would pre-date Robert Burns’ poem “To a Haggis”, which brought fame to the delicacy, by at least 171 years.
Another old recipe for haggis is taken from is taken from the book by Hannah Woolley (1622-1675) printed at the White Lion in Duck-Lane, near West-Smithfield, London in 1672 entitled: “The Queen-like closet or rich cabinet scored with all manner of rare receipts for preserving, candying and cookery”
“To make a Haggis Pudding. Take a Calves Chaldron well scowred, boiled, and the Kernels taken out, mince it small, then take four or five Eggs, and half the Whites, some thick Cream, grated bread, Rosewater and Sugar, and a little Salt, Currans and Spice, and some sweet herbs chopped small, then put in some Marrow or Suet finely shred, so fill the Guts, and boil them.”
These early recipes were written in totally different way to today’s recipe book. There were no lists of ingredients – these were included as part of the text; food and ingredient measurements were basic – quantities were not often stated; temperature control was difficult and therefore not stated; cooking times were vague – and left to the cook to decide.
Coming more to the present day, here are some more takes on haggis recipes.
Traditional haggis recipe
- 1 sheep’s stomach bag
- 1 sheep’s pluck – liver, lungs and heart
- 3 onions
- 250g beef suet
- 150g oatmeal
- salt and black pepper
- a pinch of cayenne
- 150mls of stock/gravy
Clean the stomach bag thoroughly and soak overnight. In the morning turn it inside out.
Wash the pluck and boil for 1.5 hours, ensuring the windpipe hangs over the pot allowing drainage of the impurities.
Mince the heart and lungs and grate half the liver.
Chop up the onions and suet.
Warm the oatmeal in the oven.
Mix all the above together and season with the salt and pepper. Then add the cayenne.
Pour over enough of the pluck boiled water to make the mixture watery.
Fill the bag with the mixture until it’s half full.
Press out the air and sew the bag up.
Boil for 3 hours (you may need to prick the bag with a wee needle if it looks like blowing up !) without the lid on.
Serve with neeps and tatties.
An easier haggis recipe
- 2 lamb kidneys
- 350g lamb shoulder
- 125g beef suet
- 250g beef liver
- 1 cup of oatmeal
- 1 cup of stock (tastier if you reserve this from when you boil the meat)
- 2 pureed onions
- salt and pepper
and some optional ingredients :
- dried coriander (teaspoon)
- nutmeg (teaspoon)
- cinnamon (teaspoon)
Boil the meat for about an hour and allow to cool. Then chop the meat into wee pieces but grate the liver.
Toast the oatmeal in the oven in a shallow dish and shake occasionally.
Mix all the ingredients together.
Pop into a well greased glass bowl and cover with several layers of foil and steam in a pan of boiling water for two hours.
Serve with neeps and tatties.
However, if you just want to buy one, I think that there are none better than the Macsween Haggis.
Mmmm .... a Macsween haggis cooked to perfection
Charlie the Butcher.