Magazine article The Spectator

Burns Night Bottles

Magazine article The Spectator

Burns Night Bottles

Article excerpt

Give us this day our daily bread: those are also words of great culinary significance.

Even if the 'bread' takes different forms - rice, pasta, potatoes - billions of people all over the world are following in that prayer's footsteps. 'Staple diet': throughout history, most people have lived off staples, or died when they ran out.

Staples stimulated cookery. Over time, though it would be fun to try, even daily caviar might pall: daily bread, somewhat sooner. So those who prepared the basics tried to spice them up.

If meat or fish were available, there would be no problem, but they are expensive ingredients. Most of those at subsistence level had to make do with herbs and vegetables, plus a little meat or fish for special occasions. Some wonderful dishes were created; think of spaghetti aglio e olio. But most of the enhanced staple dishes that find their way to western tables do so in unrecognisably luxurious versions.

There is a splendid exception: haggis. The one you eat today will be almost identical to the feast that Burns's rustics would have relished.

There might be a touch more pepper in the modern version - too expensive for an 18th-century staple - but the dews still distil like amber bead as the great chieftain o' the pudding race bursts from its sheep's stomach.

These days, it could be an artificial sheep's stomach, which does not compromise the taste. A haggis is primarily composed of oatmeal and sheep juice from the humblest parts of the animal, especially the lungs. The other night, I tried an upgraded version, which included liver and heart.

It lacked the warm-reeking, rich pungency of the proper chieftain.

It may be that any piece of sheep worth eating on its own would render haggis inauthentic.

In his Boisdale restaurants, Ranald Macdonald of Clanranald, yr, takes care of 3.8 tons of haggis every year (not all to his own gun). …

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