November 19, 2002
AMBROSIA IT AIN'T:Haggis, the Food of Poets (Well, One Scottish Poet) (WARREN HOGE, November 19, 2002, NY Times)
Consider the haggis and you may well wonder how it inspired a rhapsodic poem, became Scotland's national dish and touched off an incipient rebellion when Britain's food safety office hinted that it might ban it.
Swaddled tightly in the yellowed stomach lining of a sheep, a mixture of congealed fat, onions, pinhead oatmeal, stock and the cut-up heart, lungs and liver of the animal has a lumpen look that even the eulogizing poet, Robert Burns, compared to the sight of bare buttocks.
People squeamish at the idea of eating haggis get little comfort from Burns's description of what happens when the knife slices its intestinal skin and sends the minced offal spilling out:
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich! [...]
The custom of cooking the innards of an animal in its own natural vessel of a stomach bag probably came here from Scandinavia on Viking longboats, and haggis gained its honor as Scotland's national dish in 1786 through the Burns poem "Address to the Haggis."
It is recited every year on Jan. 25 at ceremonies marking his birthday, with the haggis being ushered into the room on a silver platter by a kilted bagpiper and toasted with whiskey once the dinner chairman has stabbed it with his dagger.
All of Edinburgh's butcher shops give pride of place on their walls to portraits of Burns.
"Really it's that poem that made haggis Scottish," said Jo Macsween. "It started that Scottish spirit of `don't give me that fancy French food, if you want to fight and be strong, you've got to have a haggis.' We are so grateful to that man."
And we are grateful to the ancestors who fled the barbaric heath for the shores of America and some real food. Posted by Orrin Judd at November 19, 2002 2:52 PM