The Auld Alliance

Scottish Pub - Paris

Some Haggis History

The first known cookery book is The Form of Cury (cookery), written in 1390 by one of the cooks to King Richard II. It contains a recipe for a dish called Afronchemoyle, which is in effect a haggis:

"Nym Eyren with al the wyte " myse bred " scheps talwe, get as dyse grynd pepr " safron " caste thereto " do hit in the schepys trype. Set it wel " dress it forth."

In other words: Take eggs, with the white and the yolk together, and mix with white breadcrumbs and finely diced sheep's fat. Season with pepper and saffron. Stuff a sheep's tripe with the mixture, sewing securely. Steam or boil and drain before serving. The saffron would give the mixture a golden colour, while the swelling bread would give a firm forcemeat. The haggis became well-established in the Scottish culinary scene, not as a star dish but as an everyday staple.

In The Social Life of Scotland in the Eighteenth Century, H. Grey Graham describes the town life of the well-to-do in Glasgow. Men of letters, doctors, merchants "... were allured from their abodes as readily as jovial tradesmen to their favourite taverns, where they could have their much-loved banquets of hen broth, black beans, a haggis, a crab pie, with ample punch ... " It was the success of Burns' mock-heroic verses that gave the haggis its special prominence in Scottish life.

In 1826, Meg Dods produced the Cook's and Housewife's Manual. She was the landlady of the Cleikum Inn, in St. Ronan's, near Peebles; which housed the gatherings of the Cleikum Club, one of the many dining clubs which flourished at the time. Sir Walter Scott was among the founders, and its members celebrated the national literature and the national spirit (literal and figurative) and took a gentle, nostalgic, antiquarian interest in old Scots customs. Mistress Dods is a mysterious figure about whom rumours abound. It is quite firmly believed by many in the food world that Scott was the author of her cookery book. Others question her very existence or suppose her to have been Scott's mistress.

These are wild speculations: what is clear is that the Cleikum Club was among the first organisations to organise Burns' Nights. Meg included haggis in her suggested Bill of Fare for St. Andrew's day, Burns' Clubs, or other Scottish National Dinners. Her book gives two haggis recipes. The first is as follows: "The exact formula by which the Prize Haggis was prepared at the famous Competition of Haggises held in Edinburgh when the Cleikum Haggis carried the stakes: Sheep's pluck and paunch, beef-suet, onions, oatmeal, pepper, salt, cayenne, lemon or vinegar." The author's note is interesting: This is a genuine Scotch Haggis: the lemon and cayenne may be omitted and instead of beef gravy a little of the broth in which the pluck is parboiled may be taken. A finer haggis may be made by parboiling and skinning sheep's tongues and kidneys and substituting these, minced, for most of the lights, and soaked bread or crisped crumbs for the toasted meal. There are moreover sundry modern refinements on the above recipe -- such as eggs, milk, pounded biscuits, etc. -- but these by good judges are not deemed improvements.

Some cooks use the small tripes in making lamb's haggis. Meg Dods' second recipe is for "Haggis Royal", taken from the Minutes of the Cleikum Club: Mutton suet, beef marrow, bread crumbs or oatmeal, anchovies, parsley, lemon, pepper, cayenne, eggs, red wine. Three pounds of leg of mutton chopped, a pound of suet chopped, a little or rather as much beef marrow as you can spare, the crumb of a penny loaf (our own nutty browned oatmeal, by the way, far better), the beat yolks of four eggs, a half pint of red wine, three mellow fresh anchovies boned, minced parsley, lemon grate, white pepper, crystals of cayenne to taste - crystals alone ensure a perfect diffusion of flavour -- blend the ingredients well, truss them neatly in a veal caul, bake in a deep dish, in a quick oven, and turn out. Serve hot as fire, with a brown gravy and venison sauce. We have come quite some way from simple cottage fare.

This is prosperous Edinburgh's version of Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake". Not all haggis in Scots recipe books is made with a sheep's paunch. There is Haggis in a Jar -- "the haggis may be put in a buttered jar or basin instead of the bag, and steamed for four hours. It should not be too moist." Closely related is Haggis in a Pan -- "haggis may be cooked like a stew in a saucepan. It has to be stirred occasionally and kept sufficiently moist to prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pan." Somehow it seems lacking in romance. To bring the haggis up to date, here is a modern recipe from Dorothy Hartley: A sheep's paunch and pluck, some of the porous lung, liver and heart, and sometimes the kidneys. Take the suet from around the kidneys and chop it finely. Add about a pint of medium oatmeal, a good amount of chopped onion, a tablespoon of salt, a strong dash of black pepper, half a nutmeg, a handful of currants, raisins or any available fruit element (small wild damsons or garden currants). Mix and pack into the paunch. The secret of making a good haggis is to allow for the swelling-up meal to fill the elastic stomach tightly without bursting. It may be necessary to prick the haggis slightly when the boiling is beginning, to let out the air. It is easier to sew it up, though the correct fashion is to wrap the stomach over, using wooden skewers.

The above article is an excerpt from: Wright, Clarissa Dickson. The Haggis: A Little History. 1996, Appletree Press Ltd. Belfast. For more Scottish recipes visit: www.clisham.dircon.co.uk/recipe.htm