Robert Burns is the beloved National Poet of Scotland, and this year (2009) marks the 250th anniversary of his birth. To celebrate, Scotland has officially declared this the year of the Homecoming for all persons of Scottish ancestry. I can feel the call myself, deep in my blood, as if my Great Grandmother MacPartland herself were whispering to me down through the ages, bidding me to make my own pilgrimmage to Scotland. Time will tell if I find a way to answer that call. Until then, I content myself with Highland Games and other Scottish cultural events here at home.
As you can see by my last post from the archives, it is a tradition for Scottish people all over the world to celebrate the poet's birthday annually with a Burns Night Supper, featuring Scottish food (notably the haggis), music and general revelry. I simply could not let the 250th anniversary date go by without celebrating in proper style.
In the neighboring city of Davis, we found a Burn's Supper hosted by a Bohemian European restaraunt called Little Prague. It was a good thing we made reservations, as some disappointed people were turned away at the door just as we were arriving.
The menu featured several Scottish themed selections, such as baked salmon or steak in a Scotch whiskey sauce, served with rumbledethump (a Scottish version of colcannon, which is mashed potatoes and cabbage), or brussels sprouts. The food was hearty and authentic.
Throughout the meal we were entertained with live celtic music played by Riggity Jig, a returning favorite. I regret that my photographs of the band did not come out well in the darkened room, nor could I get the whole group from where I sat. But they sounded teriffic, and that's what counts in the end.
The group played with real energy and feeling.
No Burn's Supper would be complete without poetry readings from the Bard himself, of course, and the honors were done admirably by a Mr. Tommy McKeith, himself a Scotsman. That's him in the kilt. Since Mr. Burns wrote in the language of the Scots, it took someone with the knowledge of the vernacular and the brogue to pull off a successful reading, and I count myself lucky to hear Tommy's reading last night.
At this point in the proceedings, Tommy is standing before the very traditional Scottish dish called haggis, still steaming hot from the oven. We were warned informed by the proprietor that "no one leaves until the haggis is all gone". Being made from boiled oats, sheeps' liver, possibly the heart, lungs and steamed in the sheep's stomach, haggis is something of an acquired taste, if indeed one is brave enough to taste it at all. Yet the national dish so revilled by some is loved by many. This would finally be MY night to try a real haggis, and I was determined to embrace the experience with an open attitude.
While reading Burns' "Address to a Haggis", at the requisite moment, Tommy cut into the vittles with a large knife. The crowd murmered it's approval (or in some cases, it's dread).
When the poem concluded, the proprietor made sure to visit every table and offer a taste of the haggis. I knew I was going to have some, but much to my surprise, BOTH my husband Jim and son Ethan agreed to have some too. I had to snap a picture or two to record the moment!
Here's Ethan's thoughtful moment after his first bite of haggis:
Neither Jim nor Ethan was wildly enthusiastic about the haggis, however Jim reported surprise (perhaps even relief) at the even texture and small pieces of ground meat, along with the general spiciness which he enjoyed. Ethan agreed it "wasn't too bad".
What did I think? I liked it! I went back for several bites and finished off Jim and Ethan's portions too. And while I probably would not want a whole meal of haggis, I found it to be pleasantly fragrant and interesting. I plan to make a sampling of haggis part of all my future Burns' Supper celebrations, not just a one shot deal to say I've done it. I'm still surprised at myself, although this particular haggis was not prepared in a sheep's stomach and it could be a very different experience some other time.
There's more to tell about our Burns' Supper, notably the whiskey tasting. But that will have to wait for another post. Stay tuned!