Last night was the annual Burns Supper hosted by two friends of ours who live in West Knoxville but were born in Scotland. Every January on the weekend closest to Burns’s birthday (January 25th) they invite 35 or 40 of us to their home for a Scottish meal and celebration of the life and works of the poet.
As in past years, it was a fine evening. We saw friends we hadn’t seen in a while (some not since the last Burns Supper), there was pleasant conversation, toasts, a Burns trivia game, but the centerpiece of the evening was the meal.
We had salad, lamb au jus, chicken in whisky sauce, Brussel sprouts, carrots, clapschott (mashed potatoes and rutabagas), and of course haggis. For those who aren’t familiar with this most Scottish of dishes, haggis is made of, well, a variety of ingredients. Traditionally haggis was made from a sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs minced with onions, oatmeal, spices, and salt, and cooked in a sheep’ stomach. Janice made this year’s haggis from lamb meat instead of sheep’s organs and cooked it in an artificial casing instead of a stomach. It was very tasty, as was the rest of the meal. She’s an excellent cook. The meal was finished off with a variety of desserts, including a sherry trifle, oat cakes, and coffee.
No Burns Supper would be complete without the presentation of the haggis, and our only departure from previous years was that the room was too crowded for us to stand as a rousing bagpipe tune was played and Jack brought the haggis to Robert for the presentation. When the haggis was placed in front of him Robert raised his knife and recited the Burns poem, “Address to a Haggis.” He still has his Scottish accent, and his brogue gets a little thicker when he performs this part of the Burns Supper. Extolling the virtues of the dish, it includes this stanza which follows a contemptuous description of a member of the elite class and his meal:
But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his wale nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An’ legs, an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.
You don’t have to know what all the words mean to get the picture. I know more than a few good old East Tennessee boys, raised on country cookin’, that are not to be messed with; “the trembling earth resounds his tread,” indeed.
Burns was a champion of the common man, and the world lost a treasure when he died at the age of 37 in 1796. He is considered the national poet of Scotland, and rightly so. I’m very glad we’re on the guest list for this local yearly celebration.