By BILL DUNCAN
The View From Here
With a name like Duncan there is no denying one’s heritage. I am Scottish to the core, expect, perhaps in everything but haggis, the traditional Scottish dish consisting of the sheep’s "pluck" (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, and boiled in a sheep’s stomach for approximately an hour.
I may have a taste of it on January 25th, when we Scots honor our national poet, Robert Burns, on Bobbie Burns night but I assure you it is only a wee taste. I must confess the only part of haggis I enjoy is the oatmeal.
It is probably an acquired taste, but I don’t intend to acquire the taste. Latinos say menudo cures a hangover, but I would have to be stoned to even try the tripe soup.
During Burns’ lifetime haggis was a popular dish for the poor, as it was made from leftover parts of a sheep, the most common livestock in Scotland. I researched how the haggis came to be a supposed part of my hertiage and discovered there is little evidence that it is even a Scotish dish, and its origins are more likely found in Europe. For example there is "Drob" a Romanian dish made from sheep’s organs, mixed with spices and herbs and wrapped in the sheep’s stomach. "SlÃ¡tur" is an Icelandic dish cooked in a sheep’s stomach and filled with blood, fat, and liver. "Montalayo" is a dish from Mexico, which is prepared from sheep or goat stomach in a manner very similar to haggis.
In northeastern United States the dish scrapple resembles haggis, however scrapple uses pig offal instead of sheep and cornmeal instead of oatmeal.
It is said that haggis in Scotland originated from Scottish cattle drovers. When the men left the highlands to drive their cattle to market in Edinburgh the women would prepare rations for them to eat during the long journey down through the glens. They used the ingredients that were most readily available in their homes and conveniently packaged them in a sheep’s stomach allowing for easy transportation during the journey. Closer to the truth is that the dish was born of necessity, as a way to utilize the least expensive cuts of meat.
I say, just boil the oatmeal for breakfast for me and leave the rest of the ingredients for the dogs.
Scots are famous for their subtle humor and haggis has been the subject of much of it, including a stuffed Wild Haggis, identified as "Haggis scoticus," displayed at the Glasgow Kelvingrove Gallery.
Ask a Scotsman "What is a haggis?" and he will say "a small four-legged Scottish Highland creature, which has the limbs on one side shorter than the other side to walk steadily on inclines." The Scotsman newspaper’s web site runs an annual Haggis Hunt and many tourists have been led on a "Wild Haggis Hunt."
There is a spoof sport called haggis hurling, in which contestants throw a haggis as far as possible. The present World Record for Haggis Hurling has been held by Alan Pettigrew for over 22 years. In August 1984 he threw a 1.5 pound Haggis an astonishing 180 feet, 10 inches on the island of Inchmurrin, Loch Lomond.
Television and movies, in both the U.S. and Great Britain often use haggis humor in the script. In "So I Married an Axe Murderer," Mike Myers’ character says he believes that "most Scottish cuisine is based on a dare." In "Armageddon," during the NASA space readiness exam, one of the minor characters names haggis as his favorite type of food. He then proceeds to list all of the ingredients and how they are arranged.
This all may be funny, so long as the dish doesn’t show up on my plate because that is no laughing matter, even for a true Scot.
(Bill Duncan likes oatmeal with butter, not milk, a tradition for Scots from Georgia. He can be reached by writing to P.O. Box 812, Roseburg, OR 97470)