A ritual riddled in tradition, steeped in praise, and smothered in tartan, Burns Night is quite the cultural affair. In honour of Scotland’s pioneering poet and national Bard, Scots from far and near congregate around the 25th January each year for Burns’ birthday. Poetry and Scottish charm aside, Burns night wouldn’t be the gathering that it is without the gastronomic delights that punctuate the evening. From haggis and cranachan, here is a wee guide to Scotland’s famous annual shindig.
A mouth-watering snippet of the tantalizing treats yet to enter the equation, Burns Suppers typically start with a trusty bowl of Scottish soup. Scotch broth, a filling dose of liquid gold, is composed of barley, stewed or braised lamb, mutton, or beef cuts, root vegetables like carrots, and dried pulses. Alternatively, cock-a-leekie, or ‘Scotland’s national soup’, is another strong contender. This delight consists of a concoction of leeks, peppered chicken stock, the occasional mouthful of rice or barley, and prunes. Then again, cullen skink, a Scottish alternative of clam chowder or bisque, comes from the town of Cullen in Moray and is comprised of smoked haddock, potatoes and onions.
The haggis, grossly underestimated, widely misconceived and bursting with a delightfully nutty and savoury flavour, is the star of this Scottish show. Rabbie Burns himself wouldn’t have had it any other way. He did, after all, compose an epic poem about the ‘Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!’ describing this wonderful wad of sheep’s pluck (liver, lungs and heart), oats, suet, spices, stock and salt as ‘aboon them a’, or ‘above them all’.
The best part of Burns night revolves around the spectacle of the haggis. Piped in by a delightfully talented bagpiper in full tartan garb, the haggis makes its grand entrance on a silver platter. Always stealing the show, every haggis must be addressed by a deftly skilled orateur capable of delivering a riveting rendition of Burns’ poem, Address To The Haggis, which is followed by a whisky toast.
The haggis should also go hand in hand with neeps and tatties: a famous and glorious union. For those unfamiliar with the Scots vernacular, this is essentially a fluffy serving of mashed potatoes and mashed turnips — the perfect accompaniment to haggis.
Exceedingly moreish and filling, the main course is typically followed by a welcome helping of a Scottish dessert, such as cranachan or a tipsy laird. Cranachan, a trusty go-to Scots pudding, is a delicious fusion of whipped cream, toasted oatmeal, honey, and raspberries, traditionally served in a tall dessert glass. Of course, in true Scots style, a dash of whisky is the final touch before being soaked overnight. If the Supper Chairperson likes to do things the ‘old way’, then the ingredients will be brought out individually so the guest can craft their cranachan dessert as they please. Like cranachan, tipsy laird is a celebrated Scottish dessert and popular choice for Burns Night. Essentially a trifle filled with a twist (the twist being a generous amount of whisky or Drambuie), folk rave about the way the custard, fruit and whipped cream is soaked up by the booze to create the most delicious bites.
Once the stomach has been attended to, the entertainment moves onto the soul, with a list of toasts, speeches, poetry readings, and songs. Nibbles like oatcakes and cheeses are dispersed throughout the festivities, along with coffee and, of course, barrels upon barrels of whisky or uisge-beatha, ‘the water of life’.