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From the Publisher's Desk – Haggis now arriving at Gate 5 (Jan. 28, 2015 issue)

“Fair and full is your honest, jolly face, great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place, stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace as long as my arm.
The groaning trencher there you fill, your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your pin would help to mend a mill in time of need,
While through your pores the dews distill like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour wipe, and cut you up with ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright, like any ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight, warm steaming, rich!”
This is a translation of a portion of the poem written by Robert Burns to pay tribute to haggis. Burns is considered by some as Scotland’s favorite son. He was born Jan. 25, 1759 and died July 21, 1796, after a very short life.
However, he left the world with many poems and lyrics as well as original compositions. You might recognize him most by his song “Auld Lang Syne,” which many sing to welcome in the New Year. He is regarded as a pioneer of the romantic movement, and after his death he became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and a cultural icon in Scotland.
All of this was unfamiliar to me until this past Saturday night when I attended an East Tennessee State University tribute to Robert Burns held at the Carnegie Hotel in Johnson City. I learned that many celebrate this occasion, especially in Scotland and those of Scottish descent. I attended with a dear friend from church who has such heritage in her blood line.
For me, the event was a marvelous experience and a cultural enlightenment. The night was full of wonderful food, insights on Burns and Celtic music.
Now, if you are like I was, you have no idea what haggis is. Unfortunately I looked it up first. Haggis is a savory pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a sausage casing rather than an actual stomach.
I must say that I am not an adventurous person when it comes to eating strange dishes, but this haggis was the center of attention at the event. In fact, it had been flown in from Scotland.
After welcoming remarks and a Scottish prayer, all guests in attendance stood as the haggis was welcomed in by a bagpipe player. The haggis was carried in on a silver platter and exalted with the highest regard as the entire poem by Burns was read. The orator then used a ceremonial knife to cut into the casing and allow the delicacy inside to gush out. While remaining standing, all in attendance raised a glass in toast of the haggis.
Obviously I had to at least sample what was hailed as the food attraction of the night. The buffet line allowed me to select the amount of my choosing. Two tablespoons would probably sum up the dollop on my plate. Two teaspoons would sum up my consumption. It was unlike anything I had tried before. It is funny how most strange food we eat is usually compared to chicken. This was not the case with the haggis.
It seemed to be a very rich flavor, possibly with an iron taste. It was ground fine and loose. Would I eat it again? Hmmm! I am glad I tried it at least once.
Also on the menu were cockaleekie soup, smoked haddock in mornay sauce, neeps and tatties, whisky-braised cabbage and cauliflower and drambuie peas. Dessert consisted of raspberry clootie dumpling, thistle shortbread and Abernethy biscuits.
It was a wonderful night with great company, great music and a delicious food experience. Near the end the men stood and toasted the women present and the women toasted the men. The night contained bits of humor along with history.
The evening concluded with all in attendance forming a circle at the back of the room. We joined hands and sang “Auld Lang Syne.” As the last chorus was sung, the circle would weave in and out toward the center.
The night left me with the feeling of wanting to experience more of life and culture beyond our East Tennessee standard fare. I have decided that next time I look at the menu I will opt not to research the ingredients. Haggis might be one of my favorite new items, had I not read of its ingredients first.
At least I won’t have to make a trip to Tri-Cities Regional Airport and pick up my latest shipment from Scotland. Note to self: Don’t fall in love with any food that gets more air flight time than I do.