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Robert Burns and Haggis

Every year, on 25th January, Scotland celebrates Burns Night. It is the birthday of their national poet Robert Burns (01/25/1759 - 07/21/1796), one of the most popular Scots in history.
Burns, also known as Rabbie Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire and the Ploughman Poet, wrote more than 550 poems. He is considered one of the leaders of the Romantic movement and is also famous for his liberal, socialist politics. His best known song is "Auld Lang Syne", which has now become part of the British tradition.
Burns wrote his poem "Address to a Haggis" to celebrate his appreciation for the haggis. As a result, Burns and Haggis have been forever linked.

But before we can celebrate Burns Night, we need haggis. We had the idea to make it ourselves. After researching countless recipes on the Internet and in Scottish cookbooks, we used a recipe from 1856 as a template. We ordered the ingredients from the farmers, picked them up fresh from the market and faced the challenge.

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"Portrait Of Burns"

Alexander Nasmyth (1758-1840), c. 1787

We cook haggis (pan haggis)

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Recipe from 1856 from my Scottish cookbook.


Recipe translated with instructions and recipe for the whisky sauce.


All ingredients fresh from the market. Instead of lungs, we opted for lamb's heart.


The heart, liver, and kidneys were boiled.


In the meantime, the oatmeal toasted in the oven.


The heart, liver and kidneys are all cooked.


All cooked offal was cut into small pieces.


The fat, called suet, was also cut into small pieces.


Now everything went into the mincer.


All the spices and onions were ready.


The haggis was cooked together with the spices, the oatmeal and the stock.


After 4 hours our haggis with mashed potatoes, turnips and whisky sauce was ready. It tasted fantastic! Fortunately, we didn't run out of pots.

At the end there was Cranachan, a typical Scottish dessert, and a sip of good whisky.



The first Burns Supper took place on July 21, 1801, when nine close friends of Burns met to commemorate the fifth anniversary of their friend's death. That evening took place at Burns Cottage in Alloway. The program included a delicious meal (haggis, of course!), lectures from Burns' works, and a speech in honour of the great poet (now known as the Immortal Memory). The evening was such a success that they decided to celebrate it again (this time in honour of Rabbie's birthday). Thus, they laid the foundation for the tradition that we still observe today.

Burns Night is celebrated with haggis, neeps, and tatties (turnip puree and mashed potatoes), but before you cut into the haggis you have to honour it. And this is what the ceremony usually looks like:


Everyone gathers, the host says a few words, everyone sits down and the Selkirk Grace is spoken.


"Some hae meat an canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae let the Lord be thankit. "


Some have food but, for some reason, are unable to eat,

And some would like food to eat, but they have none,

But we have food, and we can eat,

And so let us thank God.


The haggis is brought in on a silver platter and brought to a table, accompanied by a piper playing "A man's a man for a' that". Then the host or a guest recites the poem "Address to a Haggis". With the first line of the 3rd verse "His knife see rustic Labor dicht" the knife business begins. When the words "An 'cut you up wi' ready slicht " are spoken, the knife is thrust into the haggis and it is cut from one end to the other. At the end of the poem there is, a toast to the haggis - with a whisky. Then, following the piper, the haggis is carried out by the chef back to the kitchen so it may be served to the guests.

Dessert is often cranachan, or tipsy laird, followed by oatcakes and cheese, all washed down with the "water of life" scotch whisky.


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Address to a Haggis


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 airm.

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 dicht,
An' cut you up wi' ready slicht,
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sicht,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmaist! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve,
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
"Bethankit" hums.

Is there that o're his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi' perfect scunner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a 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 wallie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whistle;
An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thristle.

Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinkin ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,
Gie her a haggis!

(Robert Burns, 1787)


History, myth, legend and present

Haggis-like food - perishable offal that is cooked without delay in an animal's stomach, and all conveniently available after a hunt - has been known since Roman times. Probably this type of preparation goes back much further. The earliest reference to the dish (but not the name) comes from De Arte Coquinaria by Caelius Apicius, who lived under the rule of the emperors Augustus and Tiberius. Homer's Odyssey mentions a dish that seems close to haggis: “A man in front of a great blazing fire turning swiftly this way and that a stomach full of fat and blood that is very eager to have it roasted quickly."

The first known written recipe for haggis, offal and herbs "hagese" is actually found in a medieval cookbook from Lancashire (from the north of England) in the 1430 manuscript "Liber Cure Cocorum". In 1615 Gervais Markham presents a recipe for haggis in his book "The English Huswife". Both sources prove that this was not just a dish for Scotland (many other nations have similar recipes going back many hundreds, if not thousands of years), although it is Scotland where haggis has its deepest and most traditional roots.

For hundreds of years, haggis was a way for a Scottish farmer, or crofter, to consume the lights (lungs) of a sheep along with the heart and liver. Ingredients that, unlike the animal's denser meat, quickly spoil and go off. As they were often hungry and malnourished, nobody in the Scottish Highlands could afford to waste the offal.

A common haggis myth is that it was given to the Scots by the French during the Auld Alliance. It is more likely Scotland gaveit to France. This misunderstanding by the French that they gave it to the Scots may have arisen because the French word for minced meat is hachis - chop. Haggis was called le pain benite de l'Ecosse in France in the Middle Ages. It is claimed that it is derived from the Old Norse Haggw or the Old Icelandic Hoggva (Höggva means “to hook in”). It is believed that the origins of the word haggis come from the old Scottish word hag, which meant to chop or to hack. There are many different myths about the origin of the word. The fact is that it is still not clear where the word comes from. However, it should be noted that "hack" is used in all words.



Haggis is surrounded by legend, as is often the case in Scotland, a land of secrets.

Some speak of a wild haggis, a bird-like highland creature with a variable number of legs. The largest known wild animals were captured in 1893 and reportedly weighed 25 tons.

The wild haggis is a small animal native to Scotland. Because the haggis habitat is exclusively mountainous and it is always be found on the steeper slopes of the Scottish mountains, a rather strange gait has developed. Sometimes it is a three-legged animal and sometimes it is a four-legged animal. But, however many legs it has, the legs on one side of the body are longer than the other. This is to ensure that the body remains horizontal (level) while the animal runs around the side of steep hills. Some always run clockwise - so they have longer left legs, others run counterclockwise - so they have longer right legs. Both species live together peacefully, but cannot crossbreed. If a male turns around and tries to mate with a female of the "opposite" species, there is a serious risk that they will overbalance, and fall sideways and roll to the bottom of the hill. So, if you're on the hunt for a haggis, all you have to do is drive the haggis onto flat ground - when they will be very easy to catch.

Another legend reports that the cry of the wild haggis is the origin of the bagpipes. There were invented to attract the animal so it could be caught.













The original recipe has been adapted for the supermarket, with modern versions using synthetic "skins" and pieces of meat that would never have been used in an authentic recipe. It is even possible to buy haggis in cans. Scottish butchers vary their ingredients and often add a secret ingredient. Many now make vegetarian haggis and even make it with lentils, oats, bran, or even wheat. Other dishes such as balmoral haggis, a chicken breast fillet filled with haggis, may be soaked in malt whisky by some chefs. Haggis dogs were invented by Mark Shaw of Stepps in Lanarkshire, Scotland. They're very similar to hot dogs, but the meat is a mix of pork sausage and haggis. There are haggis canapes and haggis pizza. Recently, some restaurants have offered a regal haggis accompanied by a whisky sauce.

Text and photos: Katrin Edelmann


Seen in the Natural History Museum of Glasgow

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