Today (or should I say, this evening) is Burns Night,
when Scots all over the world will have been celebrating the annual Burns Supper, a tradition commemorating their best-loved bard which has been upheld for over 200 years. And when Burns immortalised the haggis in verse he created a cultural link which is maintained to this day.
The ritual was started by close friends of Burns after his death in 1796 as a tribute to his memory, & the basic ritual – held in honour of his birthday – has remained essentially unchanged. Now Boo & I have been to many Burns Nights, during our RAF careers; & in the absence of our menfolk (who were fortuitiously both absent for the evening), we decided to enjoy a vaguely traditional Burns Supper of our own.
The normal format for a Burns Supper is as follows:
Firstly, the Chairperson gives an opening address followed by the Selkirk Grace, after which the company stand to receive the haggis, which is carried in by the chef & led in by a piper, accompanied by a slow handclap. The the famous poem “To a Haggis” is recited with great enthusiasm, generally by the Chairperson. When he reaches the line “an cut you up wi’ ready slight” he plunges a sharp knife into the haggis. The haggis is toasted with whisky, after which the company dines. A typical ‘Bill o’ Fare’ is thus:
(consists of boiling fowl, onion, leeks, stock, herbs, prunes & seasoning)
Haggis warm reekin’ rich wi’ Champit Tatties & Bashed Neeps
(Haggis with creamed potatoes & mashed swede)
A Tassie o’ Coffee
One of the central features of the evening is giving a short speech to Burns’ immortal memory. This can be anything from high-brow literary to light-hearted humour, but always emphasises the greatness & relevance of the poet today.
The speech is followed by a more amusing address to the Lasses in the audience. Originaly this was a ‘thank you’ to the ladies for preparing the food & a time to toast the lassies in Burns’ life. It is witty but not offensive, & invariably ends on a conciliatory note. The Lasses then respond, detailing the mens’ foibles & again, is light-hearted but not insulting!
Ater the speeches & toasts the evening continues with songs & poems, of good variety to display the various moods of Burns’ muse. Favourites include “Tam o’ Shanter”, “To a Mouse”, & “Holy Willie’s Prayer”. The evening culminates with the company standing, linking hands & singing “Auld Lang Syne” to conclude.
So what did we get up to? Well, as there were only the two of us, we had to alter things slightly. Boo had worked really hard to make this a special meal; & the Dining Room at Maes Y Derw, her beautiful Edwardian B&B, looked stunning. A simple Tartan decorated the table, topped with a candleabra enrobled with fresh ivy wreaths, fat pillar candles bedecked with green Tartan ribbon creating an attractive ambiance & giving the whole a real air of opulence.
After I’d said the Selkirk Grace we tucked into the first course, a meltingly tender carpaccio served with parmesan, capers, black pepper & rocket, drizzled with olive oil. Next of course, came the haggis: although we could not quite bring it to the table in full style accompanied by a piper nor even whole, as the case had split during cooking; but I still recited the key verses of “To a Haggis” in my finest Scottish accent & with as much fiery enthusiasm as I could muster, for this “great Chieftan o’ the puddin’-race”! We toasted said fine repast with a fine whisky, & tucked into our haggis, neeps & tatties with great gusto. Incidentally the humble haggis – which is traditionally made from sheep’s ‘pluck’ (the heart, liver & lungs) mixed with oatmeal, seasoning & spices is of course a dish synonymous with Scotland; although it probably originated from Viking Scandinavia, coming over the North Sea with the raiding voyages of the Norsemen. In fact, linguistically the ‘hag’ part is certainly Scandinavian!
Next on the menu, rather than the usual ‘Tipsy Laird’ was thankfully lighter fare: a dish of my very own pure ice goats’ milk ice cream, temptingly drizzled with an opulent, amber maple syrup from Canada. The two complemented each other perfectly & the dessert was sheer bliss to the tastebuds.
After I’d toasted the Lass who had generously furnished such a fine Supper, we retired to the beautiful drawing room for our tassies o’ coffee, relaxing & chatting in front of the open fire until reluctantly we had to part company; I had to do the late check of the farm, & Boo had guests to cater for.
So it was a memorably enjoyable evening indeed – our ‘groaning trenchers’ had been filled with the finest of fare; which, when complemented with fine company as well, makes an occasion hard to beat. A toast, indeed, to the hostess!
Ironic, incidentally, that we were denied the company of our menfolk this evening; as here in Wales it is the native equivalent of Valentine’s Day, & is known as St Dwynwen’s Day after the fifith century Welsh patron saint of lovers. So……
♥ Dydd Santes Dwynwen Hapus, a chi! ♥