Burns | Understanding the Burns Supper
Bridget McGrouther explains how to celebrate Burns Night in a way that our fun-loving bard would have approved of.
What Makes a Burns Supper?
Our national bard Robert Burns was born on 25 January 1759 in Alloway, near Ayr in Scotland. The 'ploughman poet' wrote a prolific number of poems and songs, which are still revered and remembered today. The first ever celebration of Burns' colourful life was actually held in July 1801 on the fifth anniversary of his untimely death at the age of only 37, but later the date was changed to his birthday. The 25th January (or around about that date as the celebrations take place throughout January and February) is now traditionally marked by Burns Suppers, not just in Scotland, but all over the world.
Of course, haggis (which he wrote an address to) is at the centre of the Supper, as is whisky, often accompanied by recitals, song and dance. Yet the most important ingredient of all is to have fun commemorating the life and works of the great man in a way that he himself would have enjoyed with his renowned joie de vivre.
Bill O' Fare
Haggis is a MUST, served with bashit' neeps (mashed turnip/swede) and champit tatties (mashed potato). Normally it is the main course, although it can be considered as a starter instead ' particularly in countries where perhaps it's not eaten regularly or easily obtained ' and there are now canapé-size portions for that purpose. Non meat eaters don't need to miss out as vegetarian haggis is now available, jokingly referred to as a Jessie (big girl's blouse) by haggis makers McKean's.
Other popular starters include cock-a-leekie soup (chicken and leek), cullen skink (fish chowder) or Scotch broth (barley and vegetables). Alternatives to haggis as a main course could be Aberdeen Angus beef or steak pie. Favourite sweets range from cranachan (made with raspberries, whisky and porridge oats) and Typsy Laird (a Scottish sherry trifle) to clootie dumpling (a fruit pudding prepared in a linen cloth or 'cloot'). Bannocks (traditional Scottish oatcakes) and cheese are then often served with a 'tassie' of coffee or tea.
Where Can You Find One?
Hotels often arrange Burns Nights or weekend breaks, both north and south of the border, as well as restaurants, pubs, local village halls, sports clubs, universities and schools, or if you can't find an organised event, then throw your own for some 'drouthy cronies' ' or indeed the family. Young children may like to try out poems such as 'To A Mouse', although I suspect most teenagers will have none of it ' unless it's at their own youth club.
Once mainly a men-only affair, enlightenment has arrived and the lassies (women) are making inroads ' as I expect Burns himself would have approved of, being both a lover of the female race and of equality for all. It also undoubtedly allows the opportunity for women to have their say in the reply to the toast to the lassies!