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Robert Burns Lives!
What Haggis means to me

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

Haggis on a silver platter

I want to talk with you on a subject very dear to my heart and to share some thoughts and observations. I am fiercely loyal to people and things I believe in and love. When, in the early 1990s, I learned of my Scottish heritage, I jumped feet first into learning all things Scottish. I was consumed by family background research and eventually discovered that my branch of Shaws came from the wee Isle of Jura off the Argyll coast. I read and studied Scottish history and over time have accumulated several thousand Scottish books for my library. My grandson Ian had a Shaw kilt before he was born. Susan and I usually agree on most things, but on this particular subject we are where we were the first time we discussed it – I love it but she does not.

I’m talking about Scotland’s national dish – haggis. By us not coming to a consensus on haggis, however, is a mixed bag (no pun intended) since it is a huge benefit to me. When we attend Scottish functions, she always helps herself to the haggis and then gives it to me later on during the meal. What a great date she has been for over 35 years! You see, not everyone likes or loves haggis. I do, unashamedly!

Let me share one brief word about meat products. Country singer Jimmy Dean, who has been in the sausage business for many years and whose name is still proudly displayed on his product, once said, “If you like sausage, don’t ask what it’s made of”. Unfortunately, not all haggis is created equal so the same can be said of it, too.  Because of how it was made hundreds of years ago, today’s haggis is sometimes misunderstood.  A good haggis maker, like Caledonian Kitchen in Lewisville, Texas, will give you a tasty product. Theirs is my favorite American commercial haggis, and they will serve it up to you with “Premium Quality” sirloin beef, Highland beef, lamb, or for the faint of heart, there is a vegetarian haggis.

Several years ago I was invited to speak to a group of Scots during a great cruise to Nova Scotia billed as “Kilts in the Wind”. It was on that trip that I sampled Caledonian haggis during the afternoon ceilidh sessions, thus beginning a lasting relationship with Caledonian Kitchen’s haggis. As I write this there are probably a half-dozen cans of their haggis in my pantry to satisfy my “haggis fix” when I feel the urge to merge with my next haggis meal.

The best haggis I’ve ever eaten was a few years back while delivering The Immortal Memory to the Scottish Heritage Society of Southeast Georgia in Statesboro. Member Bill Davidson made the haggis we enjoyed that evening, and you couldn’t get it any fresher nor could the taste be improved upon. I will not share the recipe he gave me, but rest assured he uses the best of meats – sausage, beef, lamb, etc. If I lived closer to Bill, I would be eating more of his haggis!  Not only is he a good Scot but he is a terrific haggis maker.

While speaking at various Burns Nights Suppers, I have been known to ask for second helpings of haggis and once, after tasting the haggis, I guessed correctly the brand being served as being from Texas. I’ll flat lay a hint on any chef during any occasion that whatever haggis is left over will find a good home with me in case he or she plans to dispose of it. (Lord forbid!)

The United States “Food Police” will not let you have Scottish haggis shipped to the States nor are you allowed to bring it back into our country upon your return from across the pond. But, a can or two has been known to be forgotten when Customs asks if you have anything to declare. (Hey, it’s a haggis thing and only a haggis lover would understand.)

A few months back our son, Scott and his wife, Denise, along with their two children, Ian and Stirling, ages 9 and 7 respectively, were spending the weekend with us. At breakfast we had haggis, and Ian teasingly said to his sister as he swallowed a bite of haggis, “Stirling, you can’t be a good Scots person if you do not eat haggis. Isn’t that right, Dad?”  It was as if he knew the line from “Address To A Haggis”: “But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer, Gie her a haggis!” So I offered her some of mine and, being the good trooper she is and without being reminded she was named after the city of Stirling, she downed it, somewhat reluctantly. She received the cheers from those around the table. A few minutes later I offered her another bite. She took it, swallowed it, looked me in the eye, and said, “Papa, I hope you don’t think I’m going to eat this stuff all day long!” You go girl!

In conclusion, a couple of my favorite lines from Robert Burns’s “Address To A Haggis” come to mind, and I know I am in for a good time when I hear them. No wonder haggis has become Scotland’s National Dish and is another reason Robert Burns Lives! and will never die!

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!

…O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reeking, rich!

So I raise my glass with a simple “To a Haggis!”

(FRS: 9.3.09)

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