Monday, July 14, 2014

Hold the Haggis!

Haggis, that Scottish concoction of chopped sheep’s entrails, has been in the news lately.  The Scots, as you may know, are going to have a referendum on September 18 to determine whether they wish to secede from the United Kingdom and become an independent nation.

Making every effort to woo the loyalty of the Caledonians to keep them in the union, the London government is trying to persuade the United States to lift its ban on the importation of Scottish haggis containing sheep’s lungs. Exporting the stuff is apparently one of Scotland’s major cottage industries, and Scots contend that the allowable haggis, without the lungs, is only a pale imitation of their national dish.

Whether it is a good idea to import any kind of haggis, with or without lungs, is a highly debatable proposition.  Consider what it’s made of: sheep’s pluck, i.e. heart, liver, as well as lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and mutton stock, then encased in a sheep’s stomach (whether it’s the same sheep who provided the heart, liver, and lungs is not important), simmered for three hours, and slapped onto a plate, along with “neeps and tatties”—mashed rutabagas and potatoes.  The only remotely saving grace to this culinary monstrosity is that it is traditionally served with a hefty portion of Scotch whisky.

The word haggis dates from the early fifteenth century.  There are two theories as to its etymology: from the French agace or “magpie,” alluding to the bird’s habit of collecting odds and ends, or from the Old English haggen meaning to “chop,” which is also the root of hack.

Robert Burns idolized the dish in his “Address to a Haggis,” which begins:
            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 worthy o' a grace
            As lang's my arm.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is a fan of only the final course of a haggis dinner, the one that comes in a shot glass. 
            One thing that always makes me gag is
            That Scottish dish that’s known as haggis,
            With some old sheep’s heart, lung, and liver,
            In suet pudding, all aquiver,
            Then stuffed into the old sheep’s belly,
            Where it reposes, ripe and smelly.

            Forget about the neeps and tatties,
            They’ll only turn us into fatties.
            If this all sounds a trifle risky—
            Then serve it with a triple whisky.

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