You will know of course that today is the birthday of Scotland’s famous poet and songwriter. In our household, we’ll be raising a glass tonight to wish him well. But what is it that makes his work revered by Scots the world over.
Robert Burns followed in the bardic tradition – except that he did not write great sagas or incite the clans to war. Written in Scottish vernacular, his stories and songs reflected elements of a simpler life that warmed many a hearth – at a time when to be a Scot was looked down upon. To my mind, his writings helped enrich the national identity, not to mention the Dumfries area where he lived and worked.
It is a remarkable heritage that Burns Suppers are held throughout the world at this time. Displayed on a silver salver, the haggis – that ‘great chieftain of the pudding race’ – is ceremoniously piped in and sliced open. Those of a squeamish disposition may recoil at the spilling of what looks like the insides of a stomach. However it is a delicious concoction of meat and spices contained within a sheep’s stomach lining, reflecting the ability of folk who in harsh times had to make the most economic use of their resources. Usually, it is served with boiled, mashed ‘neeps’ (turnips) and ‘tatties’ (potatoes). The menu may also include a broth of some sort, followed by a desert, perhaps a whisky trifle (a Tipsy Laird), and cheese and oatcakes. To my mind, the meal is a symbolic poetic gesture – to celebrate the resilience of Scots in times of hardship. For those at home and abroad, it resonates on many levels.
But haggis is not just a celebratory meal, it is a staple on most pub menus in Scotland, and is definitely one of my favourites. A whisky sauce and oatcakes make welcome additions.
I love the old traditions. So tonight, we will recite the Selkirk Grace,
” Some hae meat and canna eat
And some wad eat that want it
But we hae meat, and we can eat
Sae let the Lord be thankit”
…and share a dram or two for young Rabbie who brought so much to our world.