Jan. 25, 2012 at 12:30 PM ET
“Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!” -- Robert Burns
At TODAY.com, we wax poetic about food every day, so we can really appreciate classic wordsmiths who emphasized eats, like Scottish poet Robert Burns, who dedicated an entire poem to the uniquely Scottish dish haggis. The poet, perhaps best known to Americans for writing "Auld Lang Syne," heard frequently around New Year's, would have turned 253 years old today. Around the world, fans will celebrate with plenty of food, including haggis, along with dancing, bagpipes and poetry.
Why honor Burns? Lesley MacLennan Denninger, chieftain of the New York Caledonian Club, told TODAY.com it's because he wrote songs and poetry that was relatable to all classes.
“A few years after his death at the age of 37, a group of his friends got together in his honor. They drank a toast to the 'Immortal Memory' of Robert Burns. People have been gathering together around the anniversary of his birth, January 25, ever since,” Denninger said. ('Immortal Memory' refers to a speech about Burns’ life and influence.)
I’ve attended a few Burns Suppers, in Edinburgh, Scotland and New York City, and my favorite part, amid all the dancing and toasts, is the food. There’s nothing quite like traditional Scottish fare to warm the soul on a chilly winter night.
Haggis is an integral part of the celebrations and is usually served with neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes). The subject of Burns' "Address to the Haggis," the dish involves sheep offal mixed with oats, onions and spices, usually encased in a sheep’s stomach and simmered together. It may not sound pleasant, but as someone who doesn't count herself as an offal fan, I enjoy haggis and believe that if you like meat, you'll like it too!
While haggis is not a required part of the supper, you’d be missing out on trying the dish Burns thought deserved such praise. Even its entrance into the room is a special part of the night.
The haggis is carried out on a silver tray in a procession with bagpipers and followed by others who act as the whiskey bearers. When the the dish arrives at the table, tradition dictates that Burns’ “Address to the Haggis” is read aloud as the sheep stomach (or casing if the preparer decided to forgo that element of the dish) is cut open, spilling out the tasty insides. Next there is a toast to the haggis (with whiskey, of course) and then it’s time to eat!
If you're squeamish about trying to make your own haggis, it’s not too difficult to find it premade or canned. Denninger recommends Cameron's Market in Brick, N.J., and The Caledonian Kitchen in Texas, which sell premade or canned varieties. The Caledonian Kitchen can even send you a presentation kit so you can perform your very own address to the haggis.
You can also head out on the town for a Burns Supper. Many places across the country will be celebrating tonight and all week long. In New York, St. Andrew's Restaurant and Bar and Jones’ Wood Foundry are serving up Burns Suppers. If you're in Kearny, N.J., you can attend tonight's celebration at Argyle Restaurant or, if you don’t want to risk too much whiskey on a weeknight, wait for their celebration on Saturday. This weekend will see a number of Burns Suppers in different cities, including one held by the St. Andrew’s Society of Detroit. The list goes on for these gatherings so check with your local Scottish society or restaurant and join in on the fun!
If you're inspired to make your own Burns Supper, here are three traditional Scottish recipes you can try. Start off with an adaptation of a classic Scottish soup from food blogger Pille Petersoo, then enjoy a delicious main dish and dessert courtesy of St. Andrew’s Restaurant and Bar (and don't worry, their haggis does not require a sheep's stomach!).
Cock-a-leekie soup (serves 10)
Place the chicken in a large saucepan. Halve the leeks lengthwise, wash them well, then cut off the green parts. Chop these roughly and add to the pan with the peppercorns and enough water just to cover. Bring slowly to boil, then cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover tightly and leave for about an hour.
After an hour, take out the chicken and remove the leeks, either with a slotted spoon or by draining the soup through a colander. Discard the cooked leeks. Now chop the white part of the leeks, add to the pan with the prunes and bring to the boil again. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until the leeks are just done.
Remove the chicken flesh from the bones, chop it into pieces and add these to the soup. Season with plenty of salt and pepper and serve with chopped parsley on top.
In a grinder, grind the bacon, liver, and onions. Transfer to a mixing bowl on ice. Fold beaten eggs, season with seasonings, add toasted barley and Irish oats. Make a tester, cook it and adjust seasoning to taste.
In a hotel pan add the mixture, cover with foil, place in water bath and bake at 375 degrees F for 1 hour.
Vanilla pastry cream:
Whipped cream mixture:
For the vanilla pastry cream, add the egg yolks, 8 ounces sugar, and milk together and bring to the boil. Mix together whole eggs, corn starch, and 8 ounces sugar. Add this to the hot milk mixture. Allow to cool for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
For the whipped cream mixture, whip the cream to a fluffy consistency and add all the ingredients above gently stirring all the time. Finally add the whipped cream mixture to the cooled pastry cream mixture. Garnish with fresh strawberries, blueberries and homemade shortbread cookies.
Whether you go out or cook some of your own Scottish fare, everyone should raise a glass of whiskey tonight and offer a toast, ‘To the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns!’
Lisa Granshaw writes and produces for TODAY.com. She’s English, Irish, and Scottish, which can often lead to some interesting internal conflicts, but if she just thinks with her stomach she’s Scottish most of the time.