A Scottish Burns Night celebration is a unique event: at once a feast, a serious literary evening, and a time for Scots to gather together and celebrate Scottish values as immortalized by the nation's favorite poet. The poet was born Jan. 25, 1759. In Scotland, Burns suppers take place not only in January but in February as well. Throughout the world thousands of members of Burns Clubs and Caledonian Societies don the tartan and celebrate this special day in great style.
The central event of the evening is a serious oration by a distinguished guest or Burns scholar, entitled ``The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns.''
This oration might dwell on aspects of Burns's poetry, or on the life and loves of Scotland's most famous bard. Some Burns orators might comment on the relevance of Burns today, or philosophize on the Ayrshire lad's attitude on enjoying life to the fullest.
The Burns supper is an essential element of a Burns Night celebration, and no food epitomizes the rugged romance of the Scots more than the humble but famous haggis, a Scottish national dish.
A good haggis consists, basically, of chopped and cooked lamb pluck (that is the heart, lung, and liver), mixed with finely chopped beef fat, gravy, and oatmeal, seasoned liberally with black and white pepper, salt, nutmeg, mace, and coriander.
These ingredients are then stuffed into a cleaned sheep's stomach and boiled for three or four hours in salted water.
Haggis range in size from one pound or smaller to immense ceremonial haggis up to 18 pounds in weight. They vary from butcher to butcher, for each produces his own style to suit individual or regional preference.
Today they are generally purchased already cooked, so it is only necessary to heat them up.
Considerable ritual is attached to the eating of this simple food, as the Scots are the first to admit. Whether at Burns suppers or Scottish evenings, the Ceremony of the Piping of the Haggis is a great and stylish event.
The shrill skirl of the bagpipes announces the arrival of the haggis, generally carried in by the chef on a silver platter.
The host, or an honored guest, then gives a spirited rendition of Burns's ``Address to a Haggis,'' all eight verses, during which the haggis is opened with a skein dhu, a small dagger worn in the stocking.
The haggis is then solemnly piped back to the kitchen, where it is dished out along with the traditional accompaniments of ``bashed neeps 'n champit tatties'' (mashed rutabaga and potatoes).
Other typical Scots foods served on Burns Night and other occasions include soups such as Scotch broth or cock-a-leekie (chicken, leek, and prune soup), herring fried in oatmeal, a roast joint of fine Scottish beef or lamb, or game such as roast grouse or braised venison, followed by a rich dessert -- perhaps Edinburgh fog or cream crowdie.
A Burns Night, above all, remains an evening of good cheer, good food and drink, and thanksgiving as friends and countrymen come together.
Here are a few of our favorite Scottish recipes for foods that might be served, in addition to haggis, at Burns suppers:
This is the Scottish version of the classic one-pot meal. Served with Dunlop cheese and oatcakes, it is a full meal in itself, although the broth is often served separately from the meat and vegetables. Scotch Broth 2 pounds neck of lamb or lean stewing beef 12 1/2 cups water 1/3 cup pearl barley 1/2 cup dried peas, soaked overnight 2 leeks, washed and chopped 3 carrots, diced 2 sticks of celery, chopped 1 small turnip, finely diced Salt Freshly ground black pepper Half a small cabbage, shredded Freshly chopped parsley
Cover trimmed meat with water in large pot with barley and peas. Bring to boil, skim off foam, add all vegetables except cabbage and salt and pepper; simmer covered, about 2 1/2 hours.
Add cabbage and cook uncovered 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning, serve in bowls with parsley; or serve broth first, then meat and vegetables moistened with a little liquid. Serves 6.
This traditional Scottish soup comes originally from Edinburgh. On Hogmanay or at Burns suppers or Scottish evenings, it is often served before the haggis and neeps. Cock-a-Leekie 1 boiling fowl Water Bouquet of fresh herbs Salt Freshly ground black pepper 6 leeks, cleaned and chopped About a dozen soaked prunes
Cover bird with water in large pot. Bring to boil, remove any foam, add herbs and seasoning. Add green part of leeks, bring to boil, and cover and simmer about 3 hours or until chicken is tender.
Remove meat from bones. Shred and return to pot. Skim off excess fat, adjust seasoning, and add remaining leeks and soaked prunes. Simmer 15 minutes and serve immediately. Serves 6.