Saturday 26 January 2013

Hummus, Neeps and Tatties?

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftan 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 groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill, and on and on

You will, I hope, recognise the above as Robbie Burns's famous "Ode to a Haggis" beloved of carving-knife wielding head-of-the-table blokes on Burns Night, 25th January. We love our Burns Nights in this family and we love the haggis, neeps and tatties that come with, the onion gravy, the whisky and the Scotland-related desserts. This started for me back in the 70's when the College used to do them as a formal dinner, black tie, academic gowns, Top Table and all that. Ever since then we have managed to find haggis available in shops and supermarkets, always leading up to the Night itself and often all the year round. 

Big shock then, when we realised we have moved to a place where nobody celebrates Burns Night and nobody has seen or eaten haggis, though a few have heard of it and 'seen something about it on the telly'. We looked in three different supermarkets (Tesco, Aldi and Lidl) and some butcher's shops on the day we went down to buy the geese, to no avail. We have since heard that these shops might have been selling it around Dublin (Mrs Sparks even helpfully told us that Tesco in Newry had it - that is 3 and a half hours drive away!) and Aldi might have had some on Thursday 24th but that was no good to us. 

Our last hope on Goose Day was SuperValu in Castlerea where Liz had a brief surge of hope when keen young butchery counter man leapt to her aid. "Of Course!" he said and led her to a nice full chill cabinet stuffed with .....Hummus! He was crestfallen when she explained that, No, she meant 'Haggis - the stuff Scots people eat?' We don't have many Scots here, he told us. Amazingly he was more hopeful at Liz's half-joke that he might be able to sell her a sheep's stomach. "Over the road!", he said - in 'that' butcher, but you'll have to go on Monday; That's the day he does his slaughtering. 'That' butcher is, of course, our old chum Ignatius G Victualler, slaughterer of our own three sheep. 

Never mind, we thought, we'll just have to make our own. How hard can it be? Surely it's just rough old bits of lamb (of which we have plenty), oatmeal and a few spices and pepper. Liz quickly surfed up a recipe from the BBC website.

This looked very manageable and had the option of baking it in a casserole dish rather than trying to source a sheep stomach or "ox bung" (Don't ask - it's a bit of lower gut). We have an amusing family expression for the non-lean-meat bits of lamb, offal etc, the "gribbly bits". Now, there's an excuse for a 2CV picture, the expression was invented during a trip across Northern France in our then-freshly restored old 1961 car where it quickly translated in to 'les pièces gribbloises' because we were teasing an endlessly-indecisive friend who didn't want anything 'gribbly' off the restaurant menu. 

Gribbly bits we have, of course, having recently had our lambs slaughtered. Not the 'lights' (lungs) listed in the recipe maybe but we have heart, liver and plenty of the really cheap cut 'breast' and other off cuts which the butchers would normally discard but which we asked him to bag up. For the next set of lambs we will see if we can save the lungs and stomach too, with Burns Night in mind. Oatmeal and the other ingredients are easily available, so Liz was on, in creative mode on the Thursday, and also decided we needed whisky (no 'E' in Whisky  for this - Scotch for Burns Night) and a dessert called 'cranachan'; a mixture of whipped double cream, honey, whisky, raspberries and toasted flaked oats. The raspberries led us way away from our normal principles of locally-sourced and 'sustainable' eating - they were from Morocco and cost the equivalent of €16 per kg. Oops.

Well, we got there. The BBC method, adapted by Liz, worked superbly and the haggis was, we both agree, the nicest we have ever tasted. Being non-commercial it had way less pepper and being home made by us using known gribbly bits it was ten times more meaty than any tartan-packed, mass produced version. Of course we do mashed spuds to suit our own taste (skins on, plenty of butter, pepper and full-cream milk) and also neeps (steam and mash, nothing added) plus a lovely onion gravy. We were stuffed to the gills but still managed some rather generously proportioned cranachan and a wee dram to wash it down. 

It made for a very enjoyable and pleasant Burns Night and, for an added 'sharing' socially, we had set up a silly 'On Line Burns Night' on social networking website 'Facebook' which had gathered up lots of like-minded relatives, friends and former colleagues who were comparing recipes and planning detail leading up to the evening and then comparing successes afterwards. We 'shared' all the fun with oldest cousin Win, Challock Forest living friend Rona D, Kent-based Diamond and Mazy, ex-colleagues Cath and Shane, Sparks and Mrs Sparks and many more. It was quite an occasion.

I hope you had a good one.


Anne Wilson said...

The desert sounds fantastic, can you email me the recipe please. Could you have used frozen raspberries? Lidl usually have them at 3.50 a half kg.

Matt Care said...

Not a problem, Anne. It's another Nigel Slater on