Some things I learned during our first annual Burns Night dinner:
1. Haggis was never meant to be vegetarian
2. In a contest between boiling water and loosely tied intestines, boiling water wins
3. Neeps ain't half bad
4. Just because something smells like woodsmoke doesn't mean you shouldn't drink it
5. Bagpipe music has the special ability to be awesome and annoying at the same time
6. The more oil/butter/cream/salt/sugar, the better (I knew this, but just in case you didn't)
7. Heaven is made of sticky toffee pudding
After much preparation, our Burns Night meal started with the Selkirk Grace, read by me (with bagpipes playing in the background, thanks to Pandora)...
...then To a Haggis, read by Jonathan.
Then the feasting began. I suppose we should have started with the starter, cock-a-leekie soup, but we just ate it along with our meal. It was delicious, partly due to number six above. Traditionally it would have had chicken in it, but ours didn't. Click here for the recipe. But add more oil to make it Southern good.
The main meal was very heavy and filling. Top left in the picture below are the mashed potatoes (I like leaving the skins on and putting in tons of butter and salt and milk). Top right is the mashed rutabaga (again, lots of butter and salt but no milk). That took care of the neeps and tatties requirement (some people mix them together, but we didn't). Bottom left and right are the two types of vegetarian haggis we had, sweet and savory. Click here for the haggis recipes if you want them, though I didn't like either very much. One was too mustardy and the other too gingery. They weren't awful, just not to my taste. As a former meat-eater, I appreciate those times when meat would be a better option. Like...when ordering steak for example. There's no substitute for steak. And, though maybe we just need to try a different vegetarian recipe next year, I'm currently of the opinion that there must be no substitute for sheep organs either.
One of our additions to the traditional menu was Jonathan's homemade sourdough bread. It's best toasted with butter and honey and is very pretty to look at. The hardest thing is waiting for it to cool before cutting it.
Our other addition was the pudding instead of a traditional Burns Night dessert. But before I show you pudding pictures, I may as well get one other photo out of the way. Below is Jonathan stuffing the casing with prepared veggie haggis. (The casing is supposed to be larger but must have been mixed up by the butcher with a thin sausage casing instead.) It was much more horrifying in person than the picture portrays. I shivered a little at the thought of it after it was all over. One more reason to never eat animal parts. The concoction didn't hold up under boiling water, but Jonathan wasn't put off and is planning to do 'real' haggis next year. I foresee myself leaving and coming back when it's finished.
I hope you can erase that image from your mind with the following: me preparing the sticky part of the sticky toffee pudding. The recipe is here. Whatever you're doing, stop and go make this immediately. You'll thank me.
Notice the fancy tartan apron?
I think the entire night was worth the effort for the dessert alone. It's really moist because it's full of dates and egg and butter. After the cake bakes, the topping is warmed and poured over and broiled till it bubbles. The following picture is what makes up the topping...brown sugar, butter, double cream, and vanilla...over heat it basically becomes caramel and after the broiling, becomes crunchy. Next time, I'll probably double the topping. Or maybe triple it...
Burns Night wouldn't have been complete without whisky. We had Bowmore. It smells like woodsmoke, a happy homey kind of smell, especially nice in winter. When you drink it, the smoke is mixed with a syrupy flavor that's quite good. And very warm.
We wrapped up the night with a few readings, then Jonathan sang Auld Lang Syne with a Scottish accent. Good food and drink and company. A very nice time. And though I probably won't read any Burns for a while or listen to bagpipes for an even longer while, I'm glad I got to know a little more about a literary heritage that's close enough to my heart to be my own. It's like they say, good writers manage to touch on something universal and make it accessible and moving. That's what Burns has done for others and what he's now done for me.