Haggis tradition is not to all tastes

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IT’S Burns Night on Wednesday, the celebration of the birthday and the works of Robert Burns, which means the traditional Scottish dish of haggis will be served up...

But the combination of sheep’s heart, lungs, liver and oesophagus is not to everyone’s taste.

Butcher Chris Saul, director at Saul’s of Spratton, who has been making the dish for years, said: “It’s a poor man’s meal to use up all the sheep insides.”

He said: “The Scottish like it, it’s part of their heritage but it’s not a meal a lot of people enjoy.”

He has developed a version of it over the years that is more in line with the tastes of English customers but may not be very authentic, he said: “I have put more meat in it and made it less of a poor man’s meal but a meal that’s more like a faggot, which people really enjoy.”

Some years ago he made haggis for an event at Carlsberg in Northampton attended by many Scottish people. He said: “I was piped in with the haggis and when they ate it they said ‘it’s too good,’ there’s more meat in it than we would normally get.’ Whether it was meant as a criticism...possibly.”

Although the ingredients are cheap, haggis is costly for a butcher to make in terms of time. Traditionally the mix of minced sheeps’ innards, onions and oatmeal is prepared and minced and put into a sheep stomach.

Chris said: “When you cook it in the traditional way it should be filled out into a sheep stomach and that in itself really needs cleaning out and that’s not a pleasant thing, otherwise it tends to smell a bit when it’s cooking.”

Making it in this traditional way can result in quite a large haggis which can take three or four hours to cook through but many butchers now make it in a synthetic skin or in ox bungs which come from cattle intestines and are a bit more manageable in size.

Problems can occur if the skins split when the haggis is being simmered or steamed and the contents end up in the pan of water which is why the synthetic versions are often used as they are more robust.

For it to be worth putting half a day aside to make haggis Chris needs to have a fairly large order or it is not cost effective, especially since he said: “If you have any left over after Burns night you won’t sell them.” He has had no requests for it so far this year.

At Burns night suppers Chris said the haggis is often served as a starter rather than a main course, he said: “You don’t actually have an awful lot of it to eat.”

He finds it difficult to describe the taste of haggis to anyone who has not tried it, but he said: “It is like a loose, soft-textured sausage, but it’s not terribly spicy. I can eat it and it doesn’t bother me, I don’t know that I would want to make a regular meal of it, but once a year is about my limit.”

Burns night suppers have become more popular each year at The Roade House restaurant in Roade. The event next Friday is already sold out. Chef and owner Chris Kewley said: “The food is quite simple” and he is not convinced that it is a love of haggis or of the poetry of Robert Burns that makes the night popular. The evening includes some whisky drinking, a piping in of the haggis, which is then sliced open with a ceremonial dirk, a recitation of The Selkirk Grace and the address to the haggis in which it is described as the “Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!”

So why the popularity? Chris said: “It’s a bit of fun. It’s basically people come and they have a good time.”

The Barn Restaurant at the Old Dairy Farm, Upper Stowe is also holding a Burns Night supper on Friday at 7.30pm. For details and reservations call 01327 349911.