Second-degree Burns

Two chieftains o’ the pudding-race

Last night I had the pleasure of hosting a Burns’ Supper for a couple of friends. It was a very last-minute affair, and was never intended as a faithful rendition of the rituals associated with celebrating the bard. More an excuse to get together with some mates and enjoy some good malts with a side order of offal and tubers… The haggis was sourced locally (from the freezer of a butchers in town, rather than ordered from an artisan producer deep in the Scottish lowlands), and to be honest I was a little nervous about how good it would be. I’ve been spoiled in the past with access to some award-winning haggis makers in Belfast, where the Ulster-Scots tradition means high demand (and standards), something I wasn’t as sure about in rural Yorkshire. In theory you can’t go too far wrong with a haggis as long as you treat the ingredients with some respect and plenty of seasoning. In practice I’ve had supermarket haggis, and it’s been so grey and bland that it’s not even suited for battering and deep-frying. I’ve previously considering trying to make my own haggis, but it seems like a lot of hard work if you can get the real thing. Plus I’m learning to love more offal and ‘interesting’ bits of animals as I get older, but I’m not keen on a slow-boiled sheep’s pluck in the kitchen, moist windpipe dangling limply over the lip of the pot. I suspect this whole stage would get a little whiffy too. Thankfully after over 3 hours simmering in the pot, swelling suggestively to its final turgid state, the haggis (there were two but I’m unsure of the plural for haggis: is it haggises, haggi, or haggis, like sheep?) looked the part. Once it was cut open (“trenching its gushing entrails” as Burns wrote) it smelled and tasted great. Especially as it was generously toasted at every occasion with liberal glasses of good malts (Jura, The Macallan and Glenfiddich were on the menu, alongside some interesting Scottish beers.) In hindsight, the whisky may’ve helped dampen objectivity somewhat by the time we ate, but we weren’t complaining. Traditional accompaniments to haggis are of course tatties and neeps (bashit neeps an’ champit tatties to be precise). I don’t tend to deviate much from these staples, and although I was tempted to get a little creatively contemporary in their preparation I ended up keeping it simple. A massive bowl of creamy mash, produced with my trusty potato ricer. You can never have too much mashed potato on the table anyway. NB. Whilst the potato ricer is an essential weapon in any cook’s armoury, it is not well-suited to take on the slightly more fibrous qualities of the turnip (swede), so use a decent metal hand masher for that instead.

I sliced the turnip (swede) into smallish chunks, brought it to the boil in salted water, then emptied the pan to remove any bitterness which may’ve been drawn from the vegetable. Simmered it in fresh water until it was soft and tender, then mashed it up. Plenty of butter in the pan, loads of black pepper, some grated nutmeg, a dollop of crème fraiche, and a couple of home-made frozen stockcubes (the secret meaty ingredient). Mashed, bashed and ready to serve. Delicious. Incidentally, I’m a bit bloody-minded about the nomenclature of this root vegetable. Scots folk (and by extension many in Northern Ireland where I was raised) tend to call this large orange-y globe a turnip. When my sister and I were growing up the turnip was generally associated with two seasonal occasions: Burns’ Night and Hallowe’en.

We’d slice the top off like a lid, hollow it out with a spoon, cut scary features in the front, and light the whole thing up with a tea light. Perhaps unsurprising mashed turnip was normally on the menu that night. The vegetable which the English call a turnip (smaller white and purple things) was rarely seen in the greengrocers when I was a kid: it was more likely to be used as animal feed. I’ve gingerly embraced the white turnip since settling in England, but have a real soft spot for the orange turnip, buttered and liberally doused in black pepper. It pairs brilliantly with spicy, warm flavours, and works particularly well in a tagine. I though I’d attempt to make a suitably Scots dessert as well, and settled on cranachan. Not sure if there’s a definitive recipe as such; I ad-libbed it based on my knowledge of the core components. It was well received by the guests (to be fair, we were suitably merry by this stage, having toasted the haggis many time, so anything was being received with enthusiasm by the time dessert was on the table). I soaked oats in a whisky and honey mix (this time using a standard blended spirit as I was rather generous in the amounts used) for a couple of hours, then toasted the oats in a hot oven until they crisped and started to brown. Then I folded recently-defrosted raspberries into the mix (January is not the best month to try and source the fresh article) and mixed up with a little more honey, before serving with stiffly-whipped cream (with some Jura dribbled in to give a peaty hint and warmth) and a shortcake round on the side. Tasted great, but  I’d misjudged the amounts and almost overwhelmed my guests with generosity. I must learn how to make smaller desserts in future. May the Lord be thankit…

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