Carol will be raising a glass of whisky to the poet Rabbie Burns this weekend, and tucking into that peculiar delicacy, haggis.
This Sunday, Scottish people all over the world will be commemorating the birth of Scotland's most illustrious poet, Robert Burns, with a traditional Burns Supper. This year will be extra special as it's the 250th anniversary of the poet's birth.
Haggis is always served as the main course. Scotland's best known speciality is a mystery to most non-Scots and is the focus of lots of jokes about shooting and hunting the wee beastie haggis!
In fact it's made from 'sheep's pluck' - the finely chopped liver, heart and lungs, mixed with oatmeal, suet, herbs, spices and seasoning, packed into a natural casing (traditionally sheep intestines), which is not eaten, then boiled. Its origins are shrouded in obscurity, although it is known to be an ancient dish, as 15th century recipes mention a haggis or haggas pudding. The name may come from the Scandinavian 'hag', meaning to hack or chop, or from the Anglo-Saxon 'haecan' - to hack into pieces. Another explanation is that it comes from the French 'hachis', or the Icelandic 'hoggva', also meaning to hack or chop.
The best haggis is moist, firm and flavoursome. Every Scottish butcher has his/her own recipe, made according to the basic recipe, which has remained virtually unchanged since Burns' day, with the addition of their own exclusive blend of seasonings, herbs and spices. Every year a competition is held to find the finest haggis, organised by the Scottish Federation of Meat Traders.
The meal may be a very formal event with much ceremony, to the accompaniment of bagpipes and a recital of Burns' Address to a Haggis. It comes to a close with toasts of whisky to the Queen and 'The Immortal Memory' of Burns and songs, concluding with Auld Lang Syne . Afterwards three rousing cheers for absent friends are given. A more informal supper with a few friends will also include the traditional haggis, bashed neeps and 'champit tatties' - mashed turnips and creamed potatoes. I'm half Scottish so will be celebrating with the traditional meal and a wee dram or two of good malt whisky!
Several tons of haggis are exported throughout the world for Burns Night suppers, including recent variations such as smoked haggis and a vegetarian haggis made with oatmeal, vegetarian suet, lentils, beans, nuts, carrots, onions and other vegetables packed into a synthetic casing. Surprisingly, haggis is very popular in France, where it is served in top Parisian restaurants!