Celebrated on 25th January, Burns Night, in honour of the famous Scottish poet, Rabbie Burns, is a traditional evening of food, music, poetry readings and a wee dram or two! Haggis is the must-have dish on this occasion. Created from sheep’s offal, oats, onions and seasoning which is boiled in a sheep’s stomach prior to serving, haggis has a much-loved part to play in any Burns-related event. Read on to discover ten intriguing facts about the haggis, which may persuade you to make it part of your own Burn’s night celebration.
- Haggis could well have originated in England! Despite its reputation as a traditional Scottish delicacy, there is actually reference to a haggis-type dish in an English cookery book from 1615. Details of how to concoct haggis were written down in “The English Hus-wife” way before it was adopted by Scottish people. The historian that makes this claim (Catherine Brown) suggests that the leap across the border was achieved a good few years later, at some point during the 1700s.
- Haggis is a banned foodstuff in the US! Try to smuggle a haggis into the States and you could be in a whole lot of trouble! Imports of the humble haggis were banned in 1971, as sheep offal (including lungs) is one of the key ingredients.
- Haggis hurling is a sport! Apparently started as a practical joke in 1977 at Gathering of the Clans, the haggis has to be thrown whilst the competitor is standing on a raised platform of some sort (frequently a whisky barrel). The main aim is for the haggis to be edible on landing: a throw which results in the haggis bursting or splitting on impact is immediately disqualified. The record for the longest throw is held by Lorne Coltart – 217 feet at the Milngavie Highland Games in 2011.
- The biggest haggis was made in England, in 2014, by Hall’s of Scotland (UK), at Berwick-on-Tweed. Weighing a colossal 1010 kg, its dimensions were 2.8m long x 0.93m wide x 0.65m high! Once officially measured for the Guiness Book of Records, the haggis was portioned up and sold in aid of charity.
- Who believes that the haggis is actually a small creature? Although many people are quick to quote a survey that revealed around a third of American visitors to Scotland believed the haggis to be a small animal, another survey by Just-eat.co.uk found that nearly 20% of UK respondents believed exactly the same thing! Another 15% of respondents to the Just-eat.co.uk survey believed haggis to be a Scottish musical instrument!
- Although haggis is traditionally served boiled alongside “taties and neaps” (potatoes and rutabaga or swede), there are now an enormous range of alternative haggis flavoured options: why not try a haggis burger, or a haggis-spiced chocolate truffle? Other variations include: deep fried haggis; haggis crisps; haggis sushi; and haggis ice-cream!
- Vegan haggis has been around since the 80s! Although the classic haggis is still going strong, many people prefer a vegetarian or vegan option, where beans, pulses or seeds are used as a substitute for the meat and animal suet.
- Why not join a haggis hunt? With so many people believers in the existence of the haggis, it seems only right to have an occasion on which to hunt for it! To this end, on the Sunday preceding Burns’ night, people go hunting for the elusive haggis on Selkirk Hill, Selkirk, in the Scottish Borders.
- Haggis is international! Variations of the haggis dish (essentially ingredients boiled in either a synthetic cover or a sheep’s stomach) exist across Europe. A German variation is Saumagen, where meat, onions, vegetables, herbs and spices are stuffed into a pig’s stomach and cooked in the oven. The Italian Zampone, or stuffed pig’s trotter, is also a distant relative of the haggis
- A Plymouth bakery, Friar’s Mills, produced haggis pasties in 2018. Replacing traditional meat with haggis and adding extra swede and potatoes, the haggis pasties were sold for a single day shortly before Burns night.
Like the idea of celebrating Burns Night west country style? Haggis and haggis related products are made by a number of Devon and Cornwall companies, usually in the run-up to Burns night. Check with your local butcher to see what’s available! Served hot with some seasonal vegetables, haggis provides a tasty anytime supper as well as a spectacular show piece should you wish to enjoy the “great chieftain o’ the puddin-race” with due ceremony.