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More palates are warming to `glorious' haggis

Poet Robert Burns wrote an ode to the Scottish dish. Others recoil at the thought.

January 28, 2007|Ben McConville | Associated Press Writer

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND — Take heart, liver and lung of sheep, roll in oatmeal, add pepper and stuff into beef intestine. Boil for four hours until "warm-reekin' rich."

Enjoy.

A skeptical world is catching on to the charms of the humble haggis, according to producers of the essential delicacy for this year's Burns Night celebrations. Thursday marked the 248th anniversary of the poet Robert Burns' birth.

"Some people recoil at the thought of the stuff, but I've never met someone who didn't like it after they tasted it," said master butcher Neil Watt of Watt the Butcher in Montrose, on the Scottish east coast.

"I used to work at the Savoy in London and put it on the menu as a delicacy. As far as I am concerned, it is a gourmet dish to savor. It is nonsense to say it is bad for you; it is a healthy, traditional dish."

Haggis producers are reporting record sales as the traditional Scottish dish is served at leading hotels, the Orient Express and even an upmarket pizza restaurant chain. Macsween haggis made in Edinburgh has been available at Harrods department store in London since the late 1980s.

It was a staple of the poorest in Scotland -- Highland "crofters" and Lowland "cottars" -- in the 1700s and 1800s. The meal was immortalized by Burns in his poem "Address to a Haggis" which hailed the dish as a "glorious sight."

Now each year Burns Societies and Scottish societies around the world mark the bard's birth with Burns Night suppers, where haggis is served with "tatties" (potatoes), "bashed neeps" (turnip/swede/rutabaga) and a drop or two of Scotch whisky.

The haggis is paraded into the room, accompanied by a piper, and the reading of Burns' tribute to the haggis is an essential part of the night:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,

Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!

Aboon them a' ye tak your place,

Painch, tripe, or thairm:

Weel are ye wordy of a grace

As lang's my arm ...

Because of restrictions related to fear of the human form of mad cow disease, many Scottish societies in North America use alternatives to the traditional haggis, substituting chicken, venison or canned products that do not include offal.

For those who like haggis with a modern twist, Macsween's product is also being served in a special pizza at the Pizza Express chain in Britain.

"I receive dozens of calls from America each week looking to buy haggis, but I just cannot supply it," said Jo Macsween, of the second generation of the Macsween family business.

"There's a real mixed reaction in the States. While there is a lot of demand for the product, some Americans are really aghast at the contents," she said. "But I remind them of the ingredients of the average hot dog and the process of extracting that meat, then point out that haggis is actually more wholesome."

The English translation of Burns' verse:

Fair is your honest happy face,

Great chieftain of the pudding race!

Above them all you take your place,

Stomach, tripe or guts:

Well are you worthy of a grace

As long as my arm ...

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