On 2 and 3 March the BHL-Europe team was in Edinburgh to present the Biodiversity Library Exhibition on Spices at the Science on a Plate-exhibition of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. We will make sure to write a report on that soon, but in the meantime, we invite you to learn more about haggis, probably Scotland’s most famous dish. It was on hand for tastings at our stand!

Haggis at our stand

In 1929 the Scottish food historian, F. Marian McNeill wrote:
“The choice of the haggis as the supreme national dish of Scotland is very fitting. It is a testimony to the national gift of making the most of small means; for in the haggis we have concocted from humble, even despised ingredients a veritable plat de gourmets.”

Haggis in one form or another has been eaten in Scotland for centuries. In bygone times housewives  prepared their own haggis, but today nearly all haggis is prepared either by a butcher or in food factories, and only needs to be reheated at home.

Recipes for haggis in its current form start appearing in cookery books from the early nineteenth century. One reason for this is the use of haggis as a part of the meal served at special anniversary suppers held to mark the birthday (25 January) of national poet Robert Burns (1759-1796). These anniversary suppers started in 1800. Burns’ poem Address to the Haggis written in 1786 begins:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Abune them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

Ingredients and spices

Recipes for haggis, whilst agreeing on the essential ingredients - offal, suet and oatmeal – vary depending on whether the meat used is from a sheep, lamb, calf or even deer. The recipes also vary markedly as to the spices used to flavor the haggis. Without spices, haggis would be almost unedible.  The one spice used in all recipes is pepper (either white or black) [Piper nigrum]. Other spices which have been added include:

Clove [Syzygium aromaticum]
Nutmeg [Myristica fragrans]
Coriander [Coriandrum sativum]
Allspice [Pimenta dioica]
Cayenne Pepper [Capsicum frutescens
Recipe for sheep haggis (1856):

1 cleaned sheep or lamb’s paunch
2 lb. (900 g.) dry oatmeal
1 lb. (450 g.) chopped mutton suet
1 lb. (450 g.) lamb’s liver, boiled and minced
1 lamb’s heart, boiled and minced
1 lamb’s lights, boiled and minced
1 large finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon each: cayenne pepper. ground allspice, salt and pepper
1 pint (600 ml.) stock   

See that the paunch is well cleaned, then soak it in salt and water for about 2 hours, take it out and let it dry.  Put the oatmeal on a baking tray in a low oven and let it dry out and crisp up a little.  Then put the liver, heart (trimmed) and lights in salted water to cover and cook for about ½ hour.  Strain, but reserve the stock, and chop the meats up finely, or mince.  Mix all the ingredients (except the paunch) together and season well.  Then add the stock.  Put into the cleaned paunch (fill to about half) and sew up loosely, but securely.  Have ready a large pot of boiling water mixed with the rest of the liver stock, prick the haggis all over with a small knitting needle to prevent bursting, then cook in the water and stock, at a slow simmer uncovered, but keep up the water level, for about 3 hours.   
This recipe would serve about 16. Bon appétit!

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