Originally published January 25, 2011.
If you’re not already acquainted, let me introduce you to the proud institution that is the Burns Supper.
Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759, in Ayr, Scotland. He grew up on farmland leased by his parents, and wrote several poems and songs about that rustic life, hence his famous epithet, “the ploughman poet.” His first book of poetry, published in 1786, was an explosive success, and he was quickly accepted into Edinburgh society, becoming a Freemason and working as a tax collector.
His poetry was written in an old Scottish dialect, one that modern English readers find more difficult to understand than Shakespeare. Even so, you probably know some of his verses. … Continue reading.
Scotch eggs are hard-boiled eggs that are wrapped in sausage meat, then breaded and deep-fried. They’re eaten cold, ideal for picnics and packed lunches. Actually if you watch the original British version of The Office you’ll see that Keith always has a Scotch egg for lunch.
Tonight is Burns Night, and we’re going to be serving little Scotch eggs made with quail eggs, instead of the traditional chicken egg, as savoury bar snacks.
Have a dram for the bard tonight.
This dish is most commonly called either “Welsh rarebit” or “Welsh rabbit.” “Rabbit” is the original name, though no one knows the origin of the term. Some say it was originally derogatory, suggesting that if a Welshman went out to hunt rabbit, he would end up eating cheese for dinner. The dish is currently experiencing a revival, and modern authors and cooks prefer to use the corruption “rarebit,” as it avoids the obvious confusion with the hopping mammal.
At its heart, rabbit is hot cheese on toast. The best versions also include beer. I borrowed a technique from Fergus Henderson’s book The Whole Beast. He makes a roux, then whisks his beer into it, creating what is essentially a beer … Continue reading.
…I have drugg’d their possets
That death and nature do contend about them
Whether they live or die.
-Lady MacBeth, in the Scottish play (fitting, no?)
Posset is an old British drink of cream curdled with sack (fortified wine) or ale. Nowadays the term usually refers to sweetened cream curdled so that it sets like a custard.
During the years in which the liquid version was declining in popularity and the solid version was rising, the term “posset” on its own was ambiguous. Qualifiers were added for clarity, resulting in terms like “rich eating posset.”
Anyways, this is one of the simplest desserts to make. I often serve it at Burns Suppers with shortbread cookies. The idea is to … Continue reading.
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
–Address to a Haggis, Robert Burns
Haggis: unquestionably the king of the Scots kitchen. Rarely eaten, much maligned, completely misunderstood.
Haggis is made of a sheep’s pluck, which is a tidy term for the lungs, heart, and liver. Traditionally these parts would be boiled, ground, mixed with oats and onions, then stuffed into a cleansed sheep’s stomach, making what is essentially a large, round sausage.
Sheep are rarely brought to maturity in North America, so all the offal I used was from a lamb. Lamb bits are smaller and milder in flavour than sheep bits.
Most of the ingredients are easier to obtain than you might … Continue reading.
Some would think this is the inside of my compost bin, but it’s actually the inside of my stockpot: roasted lamb bones and vegetables, as well as all the darkly caramelized bits scraped from the bottom of the roasting tray. These flavours formed the soul of the Burns Supper, as the resulting stock was used not only in the soup, but also in the haggis and the clapshot. They were the mellow, earthy foundation of the entire meal.
Making a pot of stock the night before a large meal has become a very fond tradition. The house fills with the aroma first of roasting bones, then of the simmering stock, while excitement for the coming meal slowly accrues.
Some specifics … Continue reading.