January 25, 2011 / 11:22 AM / in 7 years

Haggis: Chief o' the puddin' race for Burns night

EDINBURGH (Reuters Life!) - Carried high by the cook behind a kilted piper, the haggis is the key dish for anyone celebrating the January 25th birthday of Scotland's national bard, Robert Burns.

The fame of the dish beyond Scotland is largely thanks to Burns himself whose "Address to a Haggis" extolling the "Great chieftain o' the puddin' race" is recited by a knife-wielding orator at the start of a festive dinner.

The traditional haggis is made from the finely chopped "pluck" -- heart, lungs and liver -- of a sheep, mixed with onion, oatmeal, barley and suet, stuffed into a sheep's stomach and boiled.

Most good butchers have their own closely guarded spice recipes to add extra flavor to the basic haggis.

"It's all in the spice," said Billy Hoy, manager at award-winning Findlays of Portobello on Edinburgh's eastern outskirts.

Findlays produces two tons of traditional haggis to meet demand for the January festivities.

"Then there's the venison, Asian, vegetarian and even gluten-free haggis -- we cater for a variety of tastes," Hoy said.

Haggis is exported to or produced in countries around the world to cater for the Scots.

Findlays' chief haggis-maker spent the past week in the Norwegian port of Bergen producing haggis for the Scandinavian market. He took his own spices with him.

The Scottish government is trying to persuade the U.S. government to lift a longstanding ban on traditional haggis in America, where the use of sheep lungs is banned in both domestic and imported food products.

The form of a Burns dinner is as important as the food.

The haggis is served with bashed "neeps" and "tatties" (mashed turnip and potatoes) washed down with drams of whisky.

Speeches also enliven the proceedings, with the toast to the Immortal Memory (of Robert Burns) by a well-versed enthusiast, and more light-hearted, even ribald, toasts to the lassies by a man and a ladies' response with a toast to the lads.

The Scottish-American Society of Michigan in the United States celebrated its "second annual Burns supper" on Sunday. But it lacked a haggis. A "traditional steak pie" was provided in its place, played in to the skirl of the bagpipes.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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