For this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: In the Beginning, in the absence of any real agreement on the origin of haggis I’m using some artistic license in inventing my own blended mythological take on some of the many stories that abound. I’m quite sure many cultures used very similar recipes throughout history, so I do appreciate that it’s unlikely that haggis in its current form evolved only in Scotland. But nevertheless like it or loathe it, haggis, now seen as a traditional Scottish dish, seems destined to be forever associated with Burns Night…
To accompany my story I’ve included a real haggis recipe from the March 1950 reprint of ‘The Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes Cookery Book (Sixth Edition). The recipe goes as follows:
‘Real Scotch Haggis
Procure a large stomach bag of a sheep, liver, lights and heart. Bag must be well washed, first in cold water, then plunged in boiling water and scraped. Soak in cold water and salt all night.
Wash the pluck and soak in cold water and salt. Boil pluck (which is liver, lights and heart) for one and a half hours. In boiling, leave the windpipe attached and let the end of it hang over the edge of the pot so that the impurities may pass freely out. When cold, cut away the windpipe and any bits of skin and gristle.
Grate or put through the mincer, adding half a pound of suet. Mix all this mince with two cupfuls of oatmeal, previously dried before the fire, half a pint of the pluck liquid, season with pepper and salt. Fill bag only a little more than half full to leave room for meal to expand.
Sew up the bag, put in a pot with boiling water. Prick occasionally with large needle to allow air to escape. If bag seems thin, tie it in a cloth. Put in plate to prevent sticking to bottom of pot. Boil three hours and serve.
Note – instead of using a bag, make an ordinary suet paste of 8oz flour, 4oz suet, 1 teaspoonful baking powder: mix with cold water. Roll out paste, lay haggis inside and roll up. Lay in scalded floured cloth and steam for three hours.’
How Haggis came to be…
Once upon a time, long, long ago, when Lairds ruled the Highlands of Scotland and everyone and everything on it, times were hard for those who toiled the beautiful but unforgiving landscape. There were barley and oats grown, and there were thick-coated sheep grazing the steep hills and snow-capped mountains. There were birds and rabbits in abundance and deer in the forests of the glens and fish darting sleek and slender in the fast-flowing rivers, but in spite of this abundance there was little food to be had for Everyman and his family who worked the land for the local Laird and lived in a small low-built stone hut thatched with heather and bracken and built into the side of a hill.
Tradition had it that every time a sheep was slaughtered on the land, the Laird would have his choice cuts of meat, the castle kitchen would have the head and the feet for boiling down, but Everyman was entitled to take the offal home for himself. Everyman’s wife Agnes was a canny housekeeper, and she always made the best out of whatever was available to eat. She’d learned from her mother, and her mother before her, and generations before that going back through their Scandinavian and Celtic bloodline, how to magic healing out of herbs, how to magic a hearty meal out of seasoned oats and minced offal boiled in a sheep stomach, and how to magic whisky – uisge-mhath, the water of life – from malted barley and the golden peat-coloured spring water that ran sparkling and fresh from the mountains.
One day the Laird was out riding alone when he came off his stocky little Highland pony close to Everyman’s hut, hitting his head and losing consciousness for a few minutes. Everyman rushed to help and, poor as he was, offered the hospitality of his home to his benefactor. Agnes tended the laird’s wound with her healing herbs, gave him some of her oatmeal and offal pudding, and poured him a wee dram of whisky to wash it down with. The Laird was entranced by the unusual savoury, peppery flavour of this simple meal, and demanded to know who was responsible for creating such a feast, and what was it called? ‘My wife, Ag is’ replied Everyman nervously. ‘Haggis’ repeated the Laird, merry from the whisky, ‘What an excellent name. And where did your wife come by such a creature?’
Not wishing to give up her recipe to the Laird, as she was worried he may take away Everyman’s right to the offal if he knew that was what was used in the pudding, Agnes quickly spoke up and said it was a small rodent-type animal that lived only in the thickest heather on the steepest slopes of the highest mountains. When the Laird returned to the castle, drunk and with a head wound and rambling about wee haggis beasties running about the hillside, it was assumed he was imagining things due to the bang on his head. Everyman and his wife continued to receive the sheep offal after every slaughter, and Agnes continued to make her oatmeal and offal pudding, finally passing the recipe on to the castle cook on her deathbed so that the Laird could now have his mountain-bred, fresh caught ‘haggis’ whenever he liked…