Correspondent-classmate Pat appreciates that, more than any other food, haggis has an exceptionally bad reputation. The Scottish national dish, a mixture of sheep’s innards called “pluck” plus oatmeal and spices wrapped in a sheep stomach, has been the butt of jokes for centuries. People love to criticize haggis, even if some of those American food critics haven’t had a chance to taste it in more than 47 years because importing real Scottish haggis to the United States has been illegal since 1971. The reason: the American ban on foods containing sheep’s lungs (a component of “pluck).”

The precise provenance of haggis (French, Roman or Scandinavian) is questionable, although food historians agree that it was a peasant meal. Encasing hard-to-cook cuts like lungs and intestines along with meats like liver and kidneys into a convenient stomach packaging would have been a expedient way to feed a group while making sure no meat went to waste. That single sentence gives insight into why many think the dish has an origin in Scotland, home of thrift and parsimony.

Haggis languished uncelebrated until 1787, when Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote his great ode “Address to a Haggis.” In his poem, Burns declares his love for the “great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race” and glorifies what was a poor man’s food into a dish greater than any Italian pasta or French ragout.

Burns was already a national hero so haggis’ profile soon soared. After Burns’ death, a group of his friends began commemorating him every year on his birthday, January 25, and so began the “Burns Supper” tradition. The suppers continue to this day, featuring Scottish food, Scotch whiskey and a majestic presentation of the haggis to assembled guests.

When A-E lived in Vermont, about two dozen neighbors annually prepared the dish and, while all pretended to enjoy haggis, A-E would read Address to a Haggis with what in small town Vermont probably passed for an authentic almost unintelligible Scottish accent.

Although the Burns celebration is probably the only chance any of us have to prepare haggis, the dish is still widely enjoyed or at least consumed everywhere in Scotland from the rural highlands to the most elegant gatherings in Edinburgh. Scottish supermarkets sell packaged varieties and it’s served in fast food restaurants, deep-fried along with chips and Mars bars.

A-E has seen vegetarian versions with grains and beans instead of lungs and hearts, although that sounds suspiciously like apostasy of good taste to this Son of the Highlands.

The first sentence of this column introduces Pat who delights in savaging Scotland and Canada, primarily because A-E‘s heritage runs through those two countries.

Correspondent-classmate Richard, on the other hand, delights in new experiences, the more adventuresome the better. After listening to Pat and A-E argue about the virtues of those two great countries and their cuisine, Richard decided to partake of haggis at a Scottish game, where the atmosphere suggested, with some imagination, the windswept Highlands or the Orkney Archipelago. (Better make that “a lot of imagination.”)

Richard alerted Pat and A-E to the Scottish Games that have been celebrated in the Syracuse area for more than 75 years. He has tasted haggis and pronounced it as having a nut-like flavor.

Richard devotes much more time to discussing “tossing the caber,” roughly the equivalent of picking up and throwing a telephone pole, than to happily discussing the merits of haggis.

The games are scheduled from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. this Saturday, Aug. 11, at Long Branch Park near Syracuse.

The games will, to borrow promotional jargon from the games’ website, “allow us to bring Scotland to you. The aroma of Scottish and American Food, the skirl of pipes, the cadence of the drums, the awe of massed bands, the beauty and form of the dancers, the strength and skill of the athletes and the feeling of clanship all contribute to hours of nostalgia and pure enjoyment!”

 

A-E writes his weakly column in Canisteo while thinking of but seldom tasting the warm redolent aroma of haggis.