Robert Burns supper

We may be four days shy of his actual birthday, but it’s never too early to celebrate Robert Burns, beloved Scotsman and famous figure in literary history.  Yesterday, the Clan MacLeod Society of Greater Vancouver held their annual Robbie Burns Supper – there was tartan, there were tatties, and of course, there was HAGGIS.

Clan MacLeod

While tickets to the luncheon ($35) were available to those allegiant to the MacLeod clan or not, a great number of MacLeods were present in their signature yellow tartan.  Though I know I’m of the Anderson and Laidlaw clans, my identity as a Scot is rather weak, and the only plaid I currently own is that of the lumberjack variety.  I’ve travelled in Scotland and descend from one of Burns’ contemporary poets, however, and certainly want to delve deeper into my roots.  I admire and respect the hardy character of Scotland, which has taken a predominantly self-taught, left-leaning farmer and poet as one of its national heroes.  Gregarious accents and kilted men alone, it’s an irresistible nation.

Burns suppers celebrate Robert Burns (1759-1796), a Scottish poet and lyricist whose most famous works include Tam O’Shanter, To a Mouse, and Auld Lang Syne.

portrait of Robert Burns

Each year, thousands of suppers honour him within Scotland and around the world – there’s even annual Gung Haggis Fat Choy celebrations in Vancouver, which combine Robert Burns + Chinese New Year into one beautiful example of cultural fusion within Canadian society.  The Robbie Burns luncheon I attended took place at the Richmond Curling Club, located just east of The Oval.  Upstairs, there’s an impressive view of the eight rinks below, which were packed yesterday with dozens of curlers.  There’s a cafeteria-style café on the ground floor called Big Rock Café, and Sliders Lounge upstairs, which is where the luncheon took place.

Richmond Curling Club

The program included poetry, piping, highland dancing, and fiddling, as well as the ceremony most essential to a Robbie Burns’ Supper: the Address to a Haggis, written by Burns and performed by Ian C. MacLeod.

Address to The Haggis

And what exactly is this poem celebrating?  Haggis is a classic Scottish dish consisting of ground lamb heart, liver, lung, oatmeal, and spices all mixed together and stuffed into a casing of stomach lining; essentially it’s like a big sausage, though it’s boiled instead of grilled.  During the ceremony, a prepared haggis is paraded out on a silver tray, then stabbed with a knife as the speaker reads:

His knife see rustic Labour wipe,

And cut you up with ready slight,

Trenching your gushing entrails bright,

Like any ditch;

And then, O what a glorious sight,

Warm steaming, rich!

Haggis at Robbie Burns luncheon

The entrails don’t actually fall out, if that’s left you feeling squeamish.  As with most things involving hearts, livers, and lungs, haggis is adored by some and abhorred by others.  It’s grey, rather bloated-looking, and certainly won’t win you over with its looks, but if you eat meat it’s worth a try.  Yesterday’s haggis was particularly oatmeal-y, well-spiced, and I liked it!

buffet at Robbie Burns luncheon

It was served with tatties (mashed potatoes) and neeps (mashed turnips, or ‘swede’), making for a lunch of hearty, traditional, peasants’ fare that’s ideal on a winter afternoon.

neeps and tatties

The buffet also included rolls, salads, sweet pickles, steamed vegetables, roast beef with gravy and horseradish, and sweets.

plate of food from Robbie Burns supper

Each table also snacked on a plates of cheddar and oatcakes, which are crunchy, wholesome biscuits made from oats, a bit of whole wheat flour, butter, salt, and a touch of sugar.  They’re simple, satisfying, and perfect for a long day of shepherding on the highlands.

oatcakes and cheddar

After lunch, tea, coffee, and ‘sweeties’ as the Scots call them, seven dancers from the Elizabeth Johnston School of Highland Dancing performed – they were so impressive!

Highland dancers

My Achilles tendons ached just looking at them.

Highland dancer at Robbie Burns luncheon

Then there was some fiddling by the Fraser River Fiddlers, who were also wonderful.

Fraser River Fiddlers

I was so glad to join the Clan MacLeod in celebrating Scotland’s most famous poet.  There’s still plenty of time for you to seek out a haggis (or make your own if you’re adventurous), and practise your Address to a Haggis before the 25th.  Here it is, just to get you started (translation available here).

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
‘Bethankit’ hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis

 

 

Richmond Curling Club

5540 Hollybridge Way, Richmond BC

604-278-1722

Tickets to the Clan MacLeod Society of Greater Vancouver’s Robert Burns Supper cost $35 for adults