Love or hate it, haggis is a staple on menus across Scotland on Burns Night.
Usually served with neeps and tatties (swede and potatoes), more than 50 tonnes of the controversial savoury pudding are sold in supermarkets each year.
Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns, was such a fan of haggis, he even wrote an address to it.
So, what are the ingredients, why do we eat it, and what is Burns’ Address to a Haggis all about? Here is everything you need to know.
Why did Robert Burns write Address to a Haggis?
In 1786, Burns wrote his famous poem, Address to a Haggis because of his admiration for the Scottish dish, which by that time had become expensive and sought-after.
It is thought to be the first poem he wrote upon moving to Edinburgh, and it was written for a dinner at the house of his merchant friend, Andrew Bruce.
However it’s now known if haggis was eaten at the dinner.
What is haggis?
While legend has it that haggis is a furry little creature that roams the Scottish Highlands, in reality it’s a savoury pudding made from sheep's offal, blended with onion, oatmeal, suet (animal fat), spices, and salt.
It is mixed with animal stock and in an artificial casing, though it would traditionally have been cooked inside the lining of a sheep’s stomach.
It is usually boiled, though supermarket varieties can also be microwaved.
The dish is usually made with sheep offal nowadays, but in the past a beef mince may have been used instead.
Haggis has a peppery, sausage-like consistency and is usually served with vegetables as a main meal at Scottish feast days, such as Robert Burns’ birthday (25 January) and Saint Andrew’s day (30 November).
How was Haggis invented?
The dish uses parts of animals which are the first to expire - the intestines.
Hundreds of years ago people in Scotland would use every part of their animals to ensure there was no waste.
The offal would be cooked over an open fire at the site of the hunt and stored in the sheep or cow’s stomach so as it did not require another cooking vessel and would not spoil before it was brought back to be cooked at home.
The use of oats and suet allowed for the meal to be padded out and therefore fed to more people, using other locally sourced ingredients and spices.
Why do people eat haggis on Burns Night?
In 1801, five years after the death of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, his friends got together to celebrate his life.
Since the poet had celebrated haggis, in his poem ‘Address to a Haggis’, it seemed the obvious dish to serve at the gathering.
The tradition has continued, with people in Scotland and beyond still gathering with friends and family every year on 25 January to enjoy a Burns supper.
Traditionally, the haggis is brought into the party on a silver salver while a bagpiper serenades it.
One of the guests then recites Burns’ famous poem ‘Address to a Haggis’, before the savoury pudding is cut with a ceremonial knife.
Do other countries eat haggis?
Exports of Haggis have multiplied by over 100 percent since 2010, with haggis being enjoyed by people in the US, Czech Republic, Malta and Iceland.
However, in the US you can only purchase USDA approved haggis, as it was banned from imports in 1971 due to it containing sheep’s lungs.
The lungs can often carry phlegm and acid after slaughter, so no animal’s lungs are allowed to be brought into the US.
How do I cook haggis, neeps and tatties?
Usually you can enjoy a Burns supper at restaurants throughout the country, but with the Covid lockdown still in place, many people will be making haggis at home this year.
While there are many modern ways to cook haggis - such as in burgers or sausage rolls - traditionally on Burns Night it is served with neeps and tatties (swede and potato).
Here’s an easy step-by-step guide to creating the perfect Haggis, neeps and tatties:
- Store bought Haggis (800g)
- 8/800g large baking potatoes
- one/600g large swede
- 50g butter
- 100ml milk
Step 1 - peel the potatoes and swede, cut into inch-sized pieces and boil in separate pans with hot water for approximately 50-55 mins
Step 2 - Drain your vegetables and return to the heat for a few minutes to allow them to dry out
Step 3 - add half milk and half butter to each of the pans, then mash into a creamy consistency
Step 4 - cook your haggis as per the instructions - usually this is either by wrapping in foil and boiling in a pan, although many brands now allow for a quicker microwave option.
Step 5 - serve your haggis, neeps and tatties with additional salt if required
Haggis is best enjoyed with a red wine or peaty whisky - although you could opt for an Irn Bru!
‘Address to a Haggis’ poem
What better way to end your Burns Night Supper than by reciting the famous poem?
Here it is in full:
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm :
Weel are ye wordy o'a grace
As lang's my arm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o'need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whissle;
An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thrissle.
Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer
Gie her a haggis!
Robert Burns wrote the poem as if the Haggis was a creature of the ‘sausage race’, with a ‘buttocks like a distant hill’, slain and cooked, referred to as “O what a glorious sight, Warm steaming, rich”.
He suggest the Scottish dish is better than a frenchman’s ragout, as Scotland wants “no watery stuff”, stating “Give her (Scotland) a haggis”.