On Burns Night
January 25th is the birthday of the Scots poet Robert Burns, and if we were in Scotland, we’d be celebrating. Unfortunately, since the youngest heathen has a basketball game tonight–not in the least bit a Scottish nor a poetic activity–we are unable to have our annual Burns Night Dinner on the correct date. Thus, we had it last Sunday evening…which gave me plenty of time to cook, actually.
We’ve done Burns Night Dinners at our house for years now. Just a little party, just the three of us. Not really sure why. The heathens certainly are not great fans of Robert Burns–sadly, they are not yet great fans of any poet–though I am quite fond of him in my own little way. Still, having Burns Night does give us something to look forward to in the midst of January, that cold dark month. And it gives us yet another way to live out our fantasy lives through food: cooking up a storm and pretending we’re somewhere else. In this case, Scotland.
After visiting Edinburgh a couple of years ago, I told Ben, the middle heathen, about the sausage rolls my friends Dan and Danielle and I had found at a divey little take-away joint, when we were wandering around the city late at night. Ben is a great connoisseur of interesting food. Since then, he and I have tried to recreate these sausage rolls, with varying levels of success. Still, they always make nice little hors d’oeuvres to start our dinners. Even Rosalie will eat them–she’s not a very adventurous eater, that child–though she abstains from the brown sauce which Ben adores.
The piece de resistance of our dinners the past several years has been the haggis-stuffed chicken breast with whisky cream sauce (another dish I picked up in Edinburgh, since neither of the heathens was too enamored of straight-up haggis).
Despite what you hear, it is possible to get haggis around here: W. A. Bean’s in Bangor has a nice little one-pounder, “authentic McKean’s of Scotland haggis made in Maine according to their recipe,” that has always suited our purposes. When you go to W. A. Bean’s, a strange shop in a freezing warehouse in a giant industrial park, you go to the dark meat counter where men in bloody butchers’ aprons over winter clothes hand you what you want along with a card, which in turn you in turn take into the slightly warmer entryway to pay; in mid-January, they are always sure to tell you we’ve had quite a lot of people wanting haggis lately…as if to reassure you that you aren’t really crazy for wanting this little meat football.
Traditionally, the haggis is served up with neeps and tatties: turnips and mashed potatoes. This year, to try something a bit different–and because the local grocery store only had small white turnips, rather than exciting orange ones–I boiled a couple of carrots with the turnips and mashed them together with butter. The mixture was really rather tasty, and definitely orange: I wanted the color, too, because white turnip, white potato and off-white chicken really strike me as a hideously bland combination on a plate. Especially covered with whisky cream sauce.
I had a new recipe for the sauce this year, which involved a tablespoon of dijon mustard. While I know quite well that a traditional Scots cook wouldn’t have been tossing fancy-pants French mustard into the dinner, I have to admit that it added just enough of a bite to the sauce to make it interesting. I guess it was interesting, too, to the heathens, as there was none left at the end of the meal (I noticed Rosalie, at one point, spooning it onto her potatoes. Hmmm).
Dessert at our Burns Nights, though, is always cranachan. This has to be the world’s easiest–and the world’s yummiest–dessert:
Ingredients (to serve three)
8 oz whipping cream
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp single malt whisky
2-3 Tbsp steel-cut oatmeal
Berries (I like raspberries the best, but this year all I could find fresh were blueberries, and they worked just fine)
Put oatmeal in a dry cool pan over low heat to toast, shaking occasionally. This could take about 20 minutes. Let cool.
Whip cream until thick. Add honey and whisky; whip until thoroughly incorporated.
Put several berries in the bottom of each serving/parfait glass. Save out a few attractive ones for garnish. Fold the rest into the cream mixture, crushing a few if you want to give it color.
Spoon cream over berries in serving glasses.
Sprinkle toasted oatmeal over top of cream. Garnish with remaining berries.
Refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight.
I have to say that, for the heathens, the cranachan is the best part. They roll their eyes at the poem. They put up with weird meat and vegetables. But, as Ben said once he’d run his spoon–then his finger–around the inside of the parfait glass, to get the last bit of cream out, I could use another one of those.
Traditionally, a Burns Night Dinner is not complete without the reading of Robert Burns’ address to the main course. Well, here it is:
To A Haggis
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great Chieftan o' the Puddin-race! Aboon them a' ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy of a grace As lang's my 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 slight, Trenching your gushing entrails bright Like onie 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 mak her spew Wi' perfect sconner, Looks down wi' sneering, scronful' view On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him owre his trash, As feckless as a wither'd rash, His spindle shank a guid whip-lash, His nieve a nit; Thro' bluidy 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' thrissle.
Ye Pow's wha mak mankind your care, And dish them out their bill o' fare, Auld Scotland wants nae shinking ware That jaups in luggies; But, if you wish her gratefu' pray'r, Gie her a Haggis! *
* This stanza was originally written out as follows:-
"Ye Pow'rs wha gie us a' that's gude Still bless auld Caledonia's brood, Wi' great John Barleycorn's heart's bluid In stoups or luggies; And on our boards, that king o' food, A gud Scotch Haggis!"