Hail the ‘great chieftain o’ the pudding-race’

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I think I had consumed a bit of whisky when I last ate haggis. The meaty dish felt mealy and gnarled in my mouth and I wasn’t quite sure what I was eating. But my best friend – who was sitting next to me at the time – is passionately Scottish, so I kept my views to myself.

Because haggis is a very important tradition to many Scottish people and is as Scottish as ceilidh dancing, Sean Connery or fireworks over Edinburgh Castle on New Year’s Eve.

In Northamptonshire there is a significant Scottish population, many of whom will soon be sitting down to dinner to mark another important person in the country’s culture: The poet, Robert Burns.

The annual celebration of Burns Night is traditionally held around January 25 and generally includes eating haggis, drinking whisky and reciting Rabbie’s written word.

Among the celebratory events this year will be a Burns Supper on Friday, January 31 (7pm) at The Barn Restaurant at The Old Dairy Farm Centre, Upper Stowe.

Restaurant owner, Jane Wyton, will be serving cock-a-leekie soup, cullen skink or leek and mushroom fritters, followed by haggis, clapshot (mashed swede and potatoes) and whisky sauce (or beef stew/vegetarian option) and a pudding list including cranachan and ecclefechan tart.

Jane said: “This is mainly a daytime restaurant, but we open once a month in the evening.

“When we open in the evening we wanted it to be for an event and this is the first one we are doing like that.”

The event has taken quite a bit of research for Jane and her team. She explained: “The lady who owns the Old Dairy Farm, Helen Brodie, has Scottish links and so we spoke to people like her and, with the good old internet, we found out how it all works.

“We have got a piper in, who will welcome in the haggis, and we have someone who will address the haggis with a Burns’ poem.”

Jane is making the entire meal from scratch (including traditional soups and puddings), but is buying in the haggis from a Scottish supplier.

Jane continued: “The basic haggis recipe is simple, but involves getting the right herbs and spices. It is sheep’s innards. It doesn’t sound good but it is a mixture of meat and it is the sheep’s innards and spices that make the flavour. Originally it was a cheap meal and known as poor people’s food.

“I think people can be frightened, thinking it is sheep’s innards, but if people have kidney or heart, it is no different. It is just meat cooked in a different way.”

Alex Berry is president of the Northampton Town And County Scottish Association, which will be having its own celebrations tomorrow.

Alex said: “Traditions include having a piper and the chef march in with the haggis, then one of the guests will address the haggis. It allegedly all started when Burns was alive and haggis was commonly eaten. Burns was at a dinner with friends and addressed the haggis. The main keynote speech is what they call the ‘immortal memory’ and it is a speech which honours the life and times of Robert Burns.”

Booking is essential for the Barn Restaurant event on 01327 349911. Anyone interested in joining the local Scottish Association can call Margaret McKee on 01604 637405.