Pass the Haggis-A Brief History of the Burns Supper

robert-burns

Robert Burns, the bard poet of Scotland , was born on January 25, 1759.  He became the voice of Scotland with his poetry and song. In 1801, on the fifth anniversary of his death, nine men who knew him well gathered to have a memorial dinner in Robbie’s honor. There was ritual and remembrances, and a toast at the end.

Oh, and haggis. More on that later.

Thus began the tradition of the Burns Supper.  Around January 25, people and organizations hold the traditional Burns Supper to remember Robert Burn’s legacy.  And  it is quite a party.

First, everyone gathers and chats, and checks out the whiskey selection.  Many varieties are offered, from light Scotches to my favorite, the dark, peaty, malty ones.

Next is the call to the table by the host and the Selkirk Grace is recited:

 Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

The soup course is then served.  The Cullen-Skirk soup is traditionally served. It is a creamy fish and leek soup. Click here for the recipe.

The next part is my favorite–The Parade of the Haggis. A bagpiper leads the procession and “pipes in the haggis” to the guests. The chef follows the piper, and presents the haggis to each of the guests.  The haggis is then placed on the table in front of the host, and a reciter will  read the “Address to a Haggis”:

piping-haggis
Piping in the Haggis

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace
As lang’s me arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin’, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit! hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckles as wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ blody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ trissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind yer care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer
Gie her a haggis!

To see what this means in English, you can find the translation here.

Whiskey is offered to the chef, the reciter and the piper, and the host ceremoniously slices open the haggis with a dirk-a small dagger- but any sharp knife will do.

About haggis.  This is a dish that was made in the fields by shepherds watching over their flocks. It was one of those  meals  that was born out of necessity.  Haggis consists of  sheep heart, liver and lungs, ground up, with oatmeal, onion or leek, spices, salt and some stock. It was encased into the sheep’s stomach and boiled or steamed.  Before you get turned off by this, try it.  It is quite delicious.  I love it. Haggis is served with “neeps and tatties”-turnips and potatoes. You can find a contemporary haggis recipe here.

haggis-2
Haggis, Dirk and Whiskey

After the meal, it is time for songs and poems. And more whiskey.  The host will  deliver the Immortal Memory Address, which  is a biographical telling  about Robert Burns, and ends with a toast to the Bard.

Guests are invited to read from Burns’ poems and to perform songs, and this is great fun! Some folks have the Scottish brogue down, others, not so much.  Again, more whiskey…

Next up is the Toast to the Lassies– a  light-hearted lampoon of the shortcomings of women.  But fear not, ladies, because next is the Reply From the Lassies– an opportunity to note the shortcomings of men.  This is all done in fun and with great wit.  You can read both the Address and Reply here.

And now for the reading of one of Burns’ most epic poems, “Tam O’Shanter”.  It is a tale of drunkenness, debauchery, witches and ghosts. And the hero of the story is Tam’s horse, Maggie.  You can read both the Scottish and English version here.

tam-oshanter
Tam O’Shanter-Maggie lose her tail!

The evening progresses with more songs, poems and dancing.  The host will then do some closing remarks, thanking the chef and the piper and all who attended and raising a toast or two or three.

The finale of the evening is for everyone to sing “Auld Lang Syne”.  Nope, it’s not really a New Year’s Eve song. This is a song about friendship and the gladness of celebrating together.  You can see the Scottish and English translation here.

Once Auld Lang Syne is sung, the evening is officially over.

If you would like to go to a Burns Supper, look for a Scottish Society in your area that may be hosting one.  Or hold one yourself.  It’s  a bonnie auld tradition, full of fun and friends, with literature and drama.

Oh and whiskey…

 

 

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Where Everybody Knows Your Name

 

cheers

The hangout. The go-to place. We all have one. But why?  Why have one place that you go to repeatedly? What is the allure to going to the same location, having the same experience over and over? Where is the fun in that?

The answer is:

Familiarity breeds well, familiarity. In other words, sometimes you just need a place that you can count on. Your happy spot. Your own version of “Cheers”.

We have lived in our new location for 2 years now, and while we enjoy eating out at all different types of places, we didn’t have our hangout.  And we missed that.

Growing up, I had a few places that were my hangouts. The Tewksbury Inn in Oldwick NJ, used to be a great bar and restaurant. The Inn was old, and the bar was an enormous old-fashioned wooden bar. The bathrooms were labeled “Bucks” and “Does” and there were deer heads mounted on the wall wearing hats, Hawaiian leis and smoking cigarettes.  You could get a burger and a pitcher of beer inexpensively and listen to local blues or bluegrass musicians.  But, as time went on, it was sold. The deer heads came down, and matching wallpaper and curtains went up. And so did the prices…. you can check it out here, but it ain’t no hangout…. $33 entrees, sheesh.

There was also Bernie’s Hillside Lounge in Chester, NJ.  Bernie’s has been around for a long time, and used to host  some well-known jazz musicians, like Bix  Beiderbecke.  I used to go there to listen to the Blue Sparks From Hell, a local band that played R & B, swing and blues. Frontman C.J. Tucker, was both talented and entertaining.  Sadly, Tucker has passed away, and the band is no longer playing.  But check them out on YouTube. Listen to one of their best songs “Caledonia”.  Bernie’s is still growing strong, playing music.  Stop in.

The Stanhope House in Stanhope, NJ was a haven for great music.  It was the place where everyone went to dance and drink. Sawdust on the floor, and plenty of graffiti in the restrooms.  Stevie Ray Vaughn and Buddy Guy were some of the notables that played here. I danced the night away many time, reveling in blues and R & B. I have a term for places like this.  It was my “clean dirty bar”.  Tidy enough to just barely pass a health inspection, but gritty,  colorful and raw.  Loved it.  It had closed for a time, but since has reopened, and back to being a roadhouse.  I haven’t been back in years, but may take a trip to see  if it’s still dirty.

So back to why we like our hangouts. Sometimes we need to go somewhere that doesn’t change much. After a day or a week of challenges, we all need to have some continuity.  And a hangout offers that. My requirements for a place to be a hangout are:

Casual Atmosphere-nothing fancy. I want to be able to go right from the horse barn in my horsey clothes to the hangout. No cloth tablecloths. No coordinating curtains and wallpaper. Just tables and a bar. Fireplace is a plus.

Great food with entrees under $20-yes, it can be done.  A hangout offers well priced entrees cooked superbly, plus burgers, salads and soups.  And some specials. No overdone plating, no foam, no pyrotechnics. Just fine fresh food cooked well.

A large selection of beer, wine and spirits- an extensive and changing craft beer list is a must.  With so many craft beers, local wineries and distilleries opening, I want to see  an establishment support local products IF- and only IF- they are quality.  And hard cider.  Love hard cider.

Friendly staff- without a doubt, one of the most important features of a hangout. Personable wait staff who know the menu, and are pleasant and chatty go a long way with me.  And a bartender who will remember what I like to order.  Remember, I can go anywhere, so if you get to know me I will be back. No surly or pretentious attitudes at a hangout.  No way.

We finally discovered our hangout here in Bucks County, PA. Becker’s Corner is located right near the beautiful Lake Nockamixon in Quakertown PA.  It meets all of the above requirements, and we head there whenever we don’t feel like cooking,  and we just want some time together.  We have gone there with friends, and we now run into people we know. And they have hard cider on tap. Perfect. Give this place a try.  You won’t be disappointed. And hey, we may meet at the bar.

What is your hangout?  What makes a place a hangout for you?  Share your place, spread the word.  Everyone need a place to hang out.