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Celebrating Burns Night Gracefully and Joyfully - 23/01/2009
 
We have found an excellent vegan version of the haggis which is not only healthier than the original, it tastes a lot better too.
The haggis is Scotland's most famous contribution to the culinary arts. Vegetarians who know what it contains would leave the country rather than risk eating it, but fortunately we have found an excellent vegan version which is not only healthier than the original, it tastes a lot better too.

Haggis is, of course, the centrepiece of the traditional Burns Night Supper, held each year on January 25. It is served amid much pomp and ceremony - not to mention whisky. It is usually eaten with mashed potato and neeps (swedes, turnips, rutabaga), the two vegetables often being mashed together with a liberal dose of ground pepper.

The protocol, rituals, and translations are described in detail here. Our recipe last week for rumbledethumps (bubble and squeak) aptly precedes this veggy version of the big event next Sunday. Curly kale or cavolo nero (dark kale) may be used as a leafy veg component in these dishes. A seaweed (such as dulse) from local shores, swirled into a soup can give a reminder of a marine element (seaweed vegetables may be obtained dried from some supermarkets or health food stores or from fishmongers' (or, tinned, from Parson's Pickles). Nor have we added a recipe and nutritional data for a dessert, such as Cranachan or Tipsy Laird (sherry trifle), followed by oatcakes and cheese (dairy free fits the bill of fare). We have also omitted tots of whisky (uisge beatha).

Veggies in Scotland seeking the fun and conviviality of Burns Night might ask Advocates for Animals for local information or look up details on veggie restaurants online. Or meat-, dairy-, and cruelty-free Burns Nights can be celebrated with bought-in specials sold in some supermarkets or from haggis-makers such as Macsweens.

The ceremony begins with a forma Grace, a well-known thanksgiving prononced before the meal, using the Lallans Lowland Scots language. It is known as the Selkirk, Galloway or Covenanters' Grace:

Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat, and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit.

The supper starts with the soup course (Scotch Broth, Potato Soup, Cock-a-Leekie or Brose) with oatmeal prominent - celiacs might be able to eat the whole meal with few reservations.

A speaker recites a poem essential to the proceedings. At the line "His knife see rustic Labour dicht" the speaker normally draws and cleans a knife, and at the line "An' cut you up wi' ready slicht", plunges it into the haggis and cuts it open from end to end. When done properly this ritual is a 'highlight' of the evening ("dicht" means wipe here with the idea of sharpening, "slicht" means skill). We might mention the following of the 'Address To a Haggis':

Trenching your gushing entrails bricht, Like ony ditch; And then, O what a glorious sicht, Warm-reekin, rich! (reekin=steaming)

VEGA encourages a Grace before any formal or ceremonial meal, but silently and individually rehearsing the tributes we should award and the respect we should demonstrate in all aspects of the farm-to-plate operation and to our environment - and in our own complicity in the process. This would surely accord with Rabbie Burns' socialist principles, and leave them unbesmirched by allusions that hark to ritual slaughter.  
 
 

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