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EAT MY WORDS: Honor Scottish poet Robert Burns with this American Haggis recipe

Haggis is a sheep’s stomach filled with minced organ meats, onions, suet and spices. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com1 / 2
American Haggis made with heavily spiced ground lamb and beef liver is served here with neeps, mashed rutabaga, tatties and mashed potatoes. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com2 / 2

Scottish poet Robert Burns has a birthday this month. One would hardly think that the birth of an 18th century writer would be cause for a food holiday, but this is no ordinary poet. Burns was the Bard of Ayrshire, political commentator and national poet of Scotland. And this is no ordinary food. This is haggis — a sheep's stomach filled with minced organ meats, onions, suet and spices. It is served with neeps and tatties (boiled rutabagas and potatoes) that are kept separate, and a dram of Scotch whisky. The Burns supper is traditionally served on his birthday (Jan. 25) and includes a specific order of events involving a Selkirk grace, poetry recitations, lots of bagpiping, speeches and toasting of the Immortal Memory of Burns as well as toasts to the laddies and lassies.

I suspect most of you are thinking, "Bagpiping, boiled rutabagas and sheep's organs? Count me out." While I admit I am in the minority in my tolerance for a good bagpipe tune, I had been a little leary of trying haggis.

I first became aware of the offal foodstuff while in college. My group of friends had become obsessed with the movie "Highlander." In it, a young man from the highlands of Scotland discovers he is in a group of individuals who are immortal. A fellow immortal, played by Sean Connery, gives him pointers on the intricacies of living forever. Most importantly, don't lose your head. The scene that has stuck with me is when the Highlander tries to get Sean Connery's character to understand the concept of haggis. After listening to a description, he asks, "And what do you do with it?"

"You eat it!"

"How revolting."

It was that simple exchange that piqued my curiosity. In spite of the misgivings of my Scottish college roommate, haggis sounded so odd and exotic that I had to try it. Just a little bit, to be able to say that I had eaten it.

Much later, I discovered that Robert Burns had written a poem called "Address to a Haggis" and that his birthday was celebrated by the preparation of the rustic and gamey dish. It wasn't until years later that I was able to participate in an actual Burns supper and prepare haggis myself.

It wasn't a true haggis, as many of the sheep's organ meats are not readily available. It was a reasonable facsimile with beef liver and lamb and lots of spices. And, it was delicious. If you ever get the chance to participate in a Burns supper, I would highly recommend it. Even if you have a low threshold for bagpipe music and rutabagas are far from your favorite root vegetable, the entree, properly prepared, should be delicious. Until then, here is my version of haggis accompanied by neeps and tatties.

American Haggis

This version of haggis is made with ingredients that are readily available at the supermarket. There are no lamb lungs or sheep stomachs or kidneys of any kind. It works best if you use a food grinder to grind the lamb, beef liver, suet or lard, and onion together. If you do not have access to a food grinder, use ground lamb, chop the beef liver as fine as possible, and grate the suet or lard and onion.

1 cup steel cut oats (also called pinhead oats)

1 pound lamb meat

7 ounces beef liver

5 ounces beef suet or pork lard

1 small onion

2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon ground cloves

¾ teaspoon ground mustard

1 teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350. Spread oats in a single layer on a cookie sheet with raised edges. Place pan in the oven and toast oats for 6-8 minutes or until they begin to brown and become fragrant. Cut the lamb, liver, suet and onion into chunks and grind together in a food grinder on a coarse setting. If a food grinder is unavailable, mince all ingredients by hand. Place in a large bowl and mix with salt, spices and egg.

Grease an 8½-by-4½-inch loaf pan and place meat mixture in the pan. Pat the top to smooth and flatten. Cover with foil and place in the oven. Bake for 1 hour or until temperature in the middle of the loaf reaches 165 on a meat thermometer. Remove and serve with neeps and tatties.

Neeps

1 large rutabaga, peeled and cut into chunks

3 tablespoons butter

½ cup chopped green onions

Salt and pepper to taste

Boil rutabaga in salted water, separate from potatoes, for 30 minutes or until soft. Drain and place on a cookie sheet and place in 350-degree oven for 7 minutes to dry out. Place in a large bowl, add butter, and mash roughly. Stir in green onions and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with haggis and tatties.

Tatties

4 medium potatoes, preferably yukon gold or red potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

4 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons milk or Half and Half

½ cup chopped green onions

Salt and pepper to taste

Boil potato in salted water, separate from rutabaga, for 30 minutes or until soft. Drain and place on a cookie sheet and place in 350 degree oven for 7 minutes to dry out. Place in a large bowl, add butter and milk or Half and Half, and mash roughly. Stir in green onions and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with haggis and neeps.

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