The following article was first published in the February 24, 2003 edition of this newsletter. It seems appropriate to republish it this week for all of us of Scottish descent.
Do you have Scottish ancestry? If so, you may want to learn about the ethnic foods of your heritage. No discussion of Scottish cooking is complete without mention of haggis. Haggis seems to be popular in America only on St. Andrews Day, at Scottish Clan Society functions and at Scottish Festivals. It also is the featured dish on Robert Burns Night, a celebration held in honor of the great Scottish poet, Robert Burns, which takes place on his birthday, January 25th. Burns wrote "Address to a Haggis," probably the best-known homage to this unusual food. I have a wee bit of Scottish ancestry but had my first taste of haggis this past January 25th. It is an experience to… uh… be "remembered."
For those not familiar with haggis, it is regarded as the national dish of Scotland. Haggis is a sausage-like dish of meat mixed with oatmeal, onions, and spices, and traditionally stuffed into a casing. The meat, usually mutton, although occasionally beef, is basically ground innards, and the casing is the stomach of a sheep. The thrifty Scots of old made sure that nothing went to waste on an animal. This meant that haggis usually consisted of kidneys, liver, heart, and other internal organs, including the lungs.
A further description of the preparation of haggis will leave the average American without an appetite, so I'll skip the details. However, Jim Walters of Lewisville, Texas, can supply haggis to those who do not wish to prepare it themselves.
Mr. Walters is a Southerner of Scottish descent who is proud of his ancestry. Walters has researched his family history, attended many Highland games festivals, and even has made trips to Scotland. In fact, it was in 1989 while on his first trip to Scotland that Mr. Walters had his first taste of haggis and discovered that, despite its negative reputation in America, the taste was quite extraordinary.
Thinking that haggis had gotten a raw deal concerning its reputation in the U.S., in true American style Walters saw an entrepreneurial opportunity and decided to start his own business offering haggis. As you might expect of an American product, Walters' haggis can be purchased in the can (for those who wish to skip having their food stuffed into the stomach of some dead animal).
While Walters may be of Scottish descent, as a Texan he isn't necessarily that interested in mutton. In Texas, beef is king. Jim Walters decided to make his haggis using beef. Breaking with Scottish tradition, Walters decided to skip the left over parts of a cow and use better cuts of beef for his haggis, specifically USDA Choice Sirloin beef and beef liver.
Walters' haggis has taken off in Scottish circles in America and has even gotten some rave reviews. Late last year, Scotland Magazine held a contest to compare some of the finest haggis produced in Scotland. Since almost half of the subscribers to their on-line version of the magazine were in America, they decided to include an American haggis in their competition, and Jim Walters' Caledonian Kitchen haggis was selected for the American entry. Jim Walters' canned haggis had to compete against "home grown" entries that were fresh in the casing for judging. Competing against some of the biggest establishment names for making haggis in Scotland, including McSweens, McKeans and Crombie's, Walters' Caledonian Kitchen haggis finished a respectable fifth.
Jim Walters' Caledonian Kitchen offers a variety of order sizes for his canned haggis, as well as a 'presentation haggis,' which, as you might guess, is properly stuffed into a 'casing' for those Burns Night celebrations. The four-pound presentation haggis costs $47.99 although you can purchase 8 pounds for $82.99. That might be a bit "much" for your first taste of haggis, so I'd suggest that you start first with the single can of "Haggis with Highland Beef" for only $7.99. If you feel a bit more adventurous, you might try the three varieties sampler with Haggis with Highland Beef, Haggis with Choice Sirloin Beef and Lamb Haggis. The sampler costs $21.99.
To order Jim Walters' Caledonian Kitchen haggis, or to learn more about this dish, visit http://www.caledoniankitchen.com.
I will leave you with one thought:
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 of a grace
As lang's my arm.
(The full "Address to a Haggis," including a translation to modern-day English and much more, is available at http://www.robertburnsfederation.co.uk.)