It will soon be Burns Night. Burns Night commemorates the birth, on January 25, 1759, of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. The evening is celebrated with a traditional supper: haggis, bashed neeps and champit tatties. I find the lilting rhythms of Burns’ poetry very soothing and so every year I considering celebrating Burns Night, just so I can have the pleasure of hearing and reciting those verses.
The book I look to for authentic Scottish recipes is Carol Wilson’s and Christopher Trotter’s The Food and Cooking of Scotland. Wilson is an expert on British food and its history and origins. Trotter is a chef who specializes in Scottish food and especially in using local Scottish produce to explore both traditional and new dishes that exemplify Scottish food.
Before the recipes even start, there are twelve excellent short chapters on matters related to Scottish food and cooking. On their own, they tell the story of the influences that shaped Scottish cuisine. As the history of this wild country was provided, it was easy to understand how the essence of a country could emerge in its favourite foods. Many parts of Scotland are remote, with a fierce Northern climate, and cooks have always taken advantage of the foodstuffs that were readily available. There are recipes for hearty breakfasts and elegant dinners. There are all the typical drinks and preserves that you’ve heard about, accompanied by their history.
The only recipe you will not find is one for Haggis, and maybe it’s just as well. I first ate Haggis – and enjoyed it – before I knew its ingredients – and it was delicious. Most towns of any size in Canada and the United States have a butcher who makes a good Haggis. Buy one, prepare some other side dishes and desserts and pick up the best bottle of single malt Scotch whiskey you can afford. Gather a few friends and start your evening meal on January 25 with Robert Burns’ Selkirk Grace:
Some hae meat and canna eat
And some wad eat, that want it,
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
(Note: I read the 2008 Southwater edition of this book.)