It's Burns Night on Sunday, and this year it's particularly special because it's the 250th anniversary of the Scottish Bard.
Burns, who died when only 37, penned more than 400 popular songs, and amongst his best known pieces are Auld Lang Syne, A Red, Red Rose and To A Mouse.
Auld Lang Syne is, of course, traditionally sung at the stroke of Midnight on New Years' Eve, not just in Scotland or the British Isles, but in other places of the former Commonwealth, too, I believe (1).
A Red, Red Rose is probably why Burns is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and likewise why Romanticism and the term 'romantic' is nowadays equated with 'kitsch' and roses, when really, it was much more than that, with men like Burns and Blake inspiring both liberal and socialist thought.
To A Mouse not only starts with a personal favourite, "Wee sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie", but also contains the much better known line: "The best-laid schemes o mice an men/Gang aft agley" (often incorrectly cited as: 'The best-laid plans of mice and men/ Often go awry'), which provided Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck with yet another unforgettable title. Incidentally, we are going to see Of Mice and Men (2), produced as a play at the Crescent Theatre tomorrow. You'll be able to read my review soonish, either here or in a new blog.
For January 25th and the so-called Burns Suppers, it is, of course, To A Haggis, which is instrumental.
According to Wikipedia, Burns Suppers are celebrated around the world, in fact, are more widely observed than the official national day of Scotland, Saint Andrew's Day, or the proposed North American celebration of Tartan Day.
The ritual of Burns Suppers (3) was started by close friends of Burns shortly after his death in 1796, and its basic format has remained largely unchanged. After the Chairperson's opening address, the company are asked to stand to "receive the haggis", which is carried to the top table by the chef to the sound of bagpipes and the guests' slow handclap. Burns' famous poem is then recited by either the chairman or an invited guest. Upon reaching the line, 'an cut you up wi' ready slight', the haggis will be cut open with a sharp knife, which is followed by applause. The company will then stand and toast the haggis with a glass of whisky.
The typical "Bill o' Fare" would be Cock-a-leekie soup, followed by Haggis, Tatties and Bashed Neeps. For afters, there'd be Tyspy Laird (sherry trifle) and A Tassie o' Coffee.
But my recipe for Burns Night is:
My BH, forever 'stationed' in such exotic places such as Blackpool, encountered some such creation just outside the infamous seaside resort, namely in LYTHAM ST ANNES , and came to love it, so much so that he invited us up there, with the main intention to take us to that restaurant - BISTRO GERRY - so that we could sample it. (4)
Breast Of Chicken With Haggis In A Whisky Sauce
(G&T Recipe #1)
Breast Of Chicken With Haggis In A Whisky Sauce
(G&T Recipe #1)
I loved it, too. So, last year, I researched it, and this is my recipe -- an amalgamation of a variety of googled online suggestions. (5)
1 breast of chicken per person
ca 1 slice of haggis per person (6)
2 tablespoons of oil
Sufficient bacon/pancetta/Schinken (7) to wrap each chicken breast
sauce: for 4
Shot of whisky per person (ca 25ml)
12 fl oz double cream
20 fl oz brown stock
Heat 1 tsp of oil in a frying pan set over a low heat. Soften the chopped onion and thyme, stir in the crumbled haggis. Set aside.
Slice the chicken breasts so that they open like a sandwich, stuff each breast with haggis, onion and thyme mixture, close and wrap each chicken breast in bacon/Schinken slices.
Cook, covered, in an ovenproof dish in a moderate oven for an hour (turning periodically), then remove the cover and crisp the bacon for about 30 minutes.
Put cream and whisky in a saucepan, bring to the boil and reduce to half the original quantity. Add stock, bring back to the boil and season. If the sauce is too thin, add a little corn flour. Pour sauce on a plate, slice the chicken and arrange on top of the sauce.
Serve with turnips (neeps) and potato mash (tatties) and green vegetables.
If I do go ahead with a 'Typsy Laird' Trifle, I'll probably be using Scottish raspberries and Drambuie.
I am not quite certain what Scotland's first ever 'homecoming year' actually means but apparently, Rabbie Burns is more controversial than you'd think. Most of the following is from news.scotsman.com.
On January 5th, Susan Smith reported that a leading historian argued, Robert Burns was a "racist, misogynist drunk" who is unfit to promote Scotland's 2009 Homecoming celebrations. The historian who pointed to Burns' moral shortcomings was Michael Fry. Clearly, other people do not share this opinion, the National Trust for Scotland for one. They will be publishing his letters from the years 1787-1789 online (each one on the day it was originally written). They kicked off in December with Burns confessing in a letter to Captain Brown that he is
"ready to hang [himself] for a young Edinburgh widow, who has wit and beauty more murderously fatal than the assassinating stiletto of the Sicilian Banditti, or the poisoned arrow of the savage African."
Hmm, I think we get the picture.
PS: I have just found out that there are first-class stamps featuring Burns on sale as of today. Apparently an honour that no other non-royal person has ever achieved!
(1) Interestingly, it was one of the songs that we, a class of German school-girls, sang at a school in Rye/Sussex in 1972 - presumably to show off our superb grasp of a foreign language - not at all realizing that this is a song for New Years' Eve! I wonder what the hosts thought of it. My friend, Big E, and I made quite a fuss of enacting the "And there’s a hand my trusty friend ! And gie's a hand o’thine!", and we still consider it, to this day, OUR song!
(2) A 1937 novel, about two displaced migrant workers during the Great Depression in California; very tragic and very topical
(3) All the following information is taken from here: http://www.rabbie-burns.com/
(4) 345 CLIFTON DRIVE SOUTH, LYTHAM ST ANNES, LANCASHIRE, FY8 1LP Tel: 01253 723511; chef: Gerry Soutar. Other than the terrific food, Blackpool itself was an utter disappointment. As it was, we had a room with a view in the Blackpool Hilton, only there was no view at all! Thick fog completely and utterly disguised the fact we were at the seaside. Even the tower was shrouded entirely!
(5)It's what I like doing. I like to find what you might call the essence of a recipe - the absolutely agreed components, if you like - and then tweak it according to my liking and/or requirements. The latter, for instance, may be to cut out unnecessary fat/calories or food my BH isn't supposed to eat because of his heart condition. I shall call them my G&T recipes (googled and tested) from now on.
(6) The Robbie Burns Society reckons that Macsween of Edinburgh means haggis in Scotland almost exclusively, and that's what I bought; available at Waitrose.
(7) I use Schwarzwälder Schinken from Lidl because it is the thinnest cut and does the job really well without adding unnecessary calories.