Burns’ Night cometh… the mystery of the haggis!

While wandering down an aisle in the supermarket last week, my mind on other things, I came to a sudden halt and I found myself staring at some alien looking things in the meat department. After the initial shock, I realised I had come across a pile of haggis, all ready for Burns’ Night on 25th January.

In my younger days, the prospect of a Burns’ Night Supper was quite fun as it usually involved plenty of energetic Scottish dancing and a jolly evening perfect for livening up a cold and grey January. But haggis? It has never been high on my list of likes. Oh, be honest Joanna, it’s high on your list of dislikes! But the whole Burns’ Night Supper always sounds so wonderfully wild and Scottish that it appeals to the romantic in me. Served alongside the haggis you have the marvellously named ‘rumblethumps’ (potato, cabbage and onion) or ‘neeps and tatties’ (swede and potatoes), followed by the magical sounding ‘Clootie dumpling’ (a suet and fruit pudding). If all that wasn’t enough to fill you up and keep you warm through a freezing Scottish night, you can always add a few drams of whisky!

As decreed in Burns’ great poem, the haggis is slit with a dagger!

So what is haggis? It is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver, and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach although nowadays, an artificial casing is often used. A cheap dish designed to waste nothing and use up scraps and offal; it isn’t something many people would choose today as they try to eat less meat. But if you want to enjoy the whole Burns’ Night atmosphere there are lots of vegetarian haggis (haggi?) on sale and plenty of recipes online if you want to make your own.

Haggis is Scotland’s national dish, thanks to Scots poet Robert Burns’ poem ‘Address to a Haggis’ of 1787, a Scottish dish through and through, you would think. But wait! The name ‘hagws’ or ‘hagese’ was first recorded in England in 1430! And it gets worse…

There’s evidence to suggest that the ancient Romans were the first known to have made products of the haggis type. Even earlier, a kind of primitive haggis is referred to in Homer’s Odyssey. The well-known chef, the late Clarissa Dickson Wright, said that haggis “came to Scotland in a longship” (from Scandinavia) even before Scotland was a single nation. So that’s another ‘tradition’ shattered!

We looked for the reclusive wild haggis but couldn’t find any photos, so here’s a gorgeous Highland cow instead!

Even though there may be evidence that the Scots didn’t invent haggis after all… they have come up with an alternative history that I think sounds perfectly reasonable. The wild haggis is a small Scottish animal, a smaller hairier version of a sheep. According to some sources, the wild haggis’s left and right legs are of different lengths, allowing it to run quickly around the steep mountains and hillsides that make up its natural habitat but only in one direction. It is further claimed that there are two varieties of haggis, one with longer left legs and the other with longer right legs. The former variety can run clockwise around a mountain (as seen from above) while the latter can run anticlockwise. The two varieties live happily alongside each other but are unable to interbreed in the wild because, in order for the male of one variety to mate with a female of the other, he must turn to face in the same direction as his intended mate, causing him to lose his balance and fall over!

PS. According to one poll, 33% of American visitors to Scotland believed haggis to be an animal

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Willow Pattern extravaganza!

This lovely collection of projects all used our fantastic Willow Pattern dies. They are a collection that can be used individually or together to create some really special projects.

I have had willow pattern everyday plates for many years. I think it’s a classic design that fits well with my cottage style kitchen and the ones I have don’t cost the earth – if you happen to break one! There are many objects around that use the willow pattern story. There are several ‘legends’ about the meaning of the Willow Pattern and what it depicts – all fabricated it would seem. It was first published as “The Story of the Common Willow Pattern Plate” in the magazine The Family Friend in 1849… and there was me thinking it had oriental roots.

I looked it up on Wikipedia the other day and this is the legend mentioned there:

The Romantic Fable: Once there was a wealthy Mandarin, who had a beautiful daughter (Koong-se). She had fallen in love with her father’s humble accounting assistant (Chang), angering her father. (It was inappropriate for them to marry due to their difference in social class.) He dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart. The Mandarin was planning for his daughter to marry a powerful Duke. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride, bearing a box of jewels as a gift. The wedding was to take place on the day the blossom fell from the willow tree.

On the eve of the daughter’s wedding to the Duke, the young accountant, disguised as a servant, slipped into the palace unnoticed. As the lovers escaped with the jewels, the alarm was raised. They ran over a bridge, chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand. They eventually escaped on the Duke’s ship to the safety of a secluded island, where they lived happily for years. But one day, the Duke learned of their refuge. Hungry for revenge, he sent soldiers, who captured the lovers and put them to death. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves (possibly a later addition to the tale, since the birds do not appear on the earliest willow pattern plates).

If any of you are interested in making the tea set pictured here, made by the lovely Sylvie Ashton then drop me an email on joanna@joannasheen.com and I will pass on the instructions and templates she sent me not long ago.

Generally speaking the cards are all really easy to make as once you have your blue and white theme sorted out (ie white on blue or blue on white) the diecuts make the card by themselves really! Have fun, smiles Joanna.

 

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Books for Christmas!

In another life, I would have time to sit and read every day. I love reading, it is such a wonderful way to escape and lose yourself. Hey ho, not just yet Joanna! But that doesn’t stop me drooling over books I see reviewed online or actually stroking them lovingly in shops (I’m sorry, but it has been known!) It’s been very hard to narrow my choices for 2017 down to five, some that I’d like to give, the others to receive, but here they are:

Dairy Diary

Look, I know this isn’t exactly ground-breaking, but my Mother always had this diary and, when it comes to keeping track of appointments I am still very happy with good old paper and pen rather than technology, thank you very much. But of course, this best-seller is much more than just a diary, it is both practical and pretty with delicious weekly recipes, year planners, calendars, home budgeting, interesting garden and leisure features plus kitchen tips and tricks, stain removal and laundry tips – phew! It’s a traditional treasure trove and I’m very fond of it…and anyway, it reminds me of my Mum.

 

Down to Earth by Monty Don

I will hear no wrong about Monty Don! Here, he shares 50 years of his gardening experience with us in this easy to digest gardening book which covers a wide range of subjects including shrubs, containers, pests and compost, to growing your own edibles and useful pointers on what to do in each month of the year. In his gentle, easy way, he tells us not to worry about the plants in the garden – they are tough, and can look after themselves. Thank goodness for that! There is sensible design advice for small gardens in here too. It’s really rather good and both a great starter book for a novice gardener and a handy reference guide for others.

 

Little Miss Busy Surviving Motherhood (Mr. Men for Grown-ups)

Mr Men arrived too late for me, but my older daughter Pippa enjoyed them when small… but now, thanks to this new range I can enjoy them as a grown up! These are no great literary works, but they are fun and make a super stocking filler with their various characters getting into all sorts of humorous adult predicaments! The author of the original Mr Men, Roger Hargreaves, is Britain’s third best-selling author of all time having sold more than 100 million books. He wrote the first Mr. Men book in 1971 when his 8-year-old son, Adam Hargreaves, asked ‘What does a tickle look like?’ In response, Roger drew a figure with a round orange body and long, rubbery arms and Mr. Tickle was born. And the final twist to this rather lovely story is that Adam Hargreaves himself, now draws the characters for the modern day stories that his late father originally created.

 

Mary Berry Everyday by Mary Berry

If, like me, you are a Mary Berry fan, then you need to add this book to your collection. The blurb says: “In this brand-new, official tie-in to Mary’s much anticipated 2017 BBC series, the nation’s best-loved home cook will show you how to inject a little Mary magic into your everyday cooking, with over 120 delicious recipes.” And indeed it does! Mary is so no nonsense and has so much knowledge, you can’t go wrong with her recipes – easy to follow and using normal ingredients. Although these are billed as ‘everyday’ recipes, there are plenty that would do well for special occasions too.

 

5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food by Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver is a clever chap. This is yet another brilliant cook book from him and one that I shall be both giving and (thanks Richard!) receiving. Every recipe uses just five key ingredients, ensuring you can get a plate of food together fast, whether it’s finished and on the table super-quickly, or after some minimal hands-on preparation – just my sort of cooking! As the blurb puts it: ‘We’re talking quality over quantity, a little diligence on the cooking front, and in return massive flavour.’

 

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Moon gazing…

As a child, I was never quite sure if the moon was made of cheese, or whether there was a man living in it, these were both tales I remember being told on numerous occasions! Despite being old enough to watch the moon landing in 1969, I think I still harboured a romantic dream that there just might be cheese up there… or that there was an old man hiding in a crater!

I am sure we have all gazed at the moon, enjoyed its beautiful silvery light on a clear frosty night, or marvelled at how huge a supermoon appears to be. But the moon is a lot more than just a pretty face, it affects our everyday lives – our very existence, in fact. The moon’s gravitational pull produces the ocean tides, something I always find fascinating.

I didn’t realise that there was still so much mystery surrounding the moon. Scientists think it was formed from debris left over from a huge collision between the Earth and another body, but they don’t know for sure. But we do know it is egg shaped, not round, and is moving very slowly away from the Earth…

The moon plays a part in many ancient cultures that developed lunar calendars, Christianity being one of them. Originally, the moon was regarded as being a symbol of wisdom and justice but this later changed to signify madness, or lunacy – from ‘luna’ the Latin word for the moon. Ever since the Middle Ages, epileptic fits were believed to be triggered by the full moon. There is also an old wives tale that warned people not to have surgery around a full moon, as they would bleed excessively – ugh!

There are many myths and tales about the moon and its influence, but no real scientific evidence to back them up, sadly. Dogs are often said to howl at a full moon (I can’t say any of mine have!) and then of course, there’s the whole werewolf scenario! People are still fascinated by the effect of the full moon on human behaviour and it even has its own term, ‘Transylvania Hypothesis’!

There are so many romantic moon-related terms, I thought I’d list a few of them here. The lovely sounding ‘harvest moon’ and ‘hunter’s moon’ are traditional terms for the full moons that we see during late summer and in the autumn, and nowadays we also talk about a supermoon – a full moon or a new moon that coincides with the closest distance that the moon reaches to Earth giving a larger-than-usual apparent size of the lunar disk. The Americans, however, seem to have made an art out of romantic-sounding moon terms, so here are some examples for you:

  • January: Wolf Moon, Old Moon
  • February: Snow Moon, Hunger Moon
  • March: Crow Moon, Sap Moon
  • April: Pink Moon, Egg Moon, Fish Moon
  • May: Milk Moon, Flower Moon
  • June: Strawberry Moon, Rose Moon
  • July: Hay Moon, Thunder Moon
  • August: Corn Moon, Sturgeon Moon
  • September: Harvest Moon, Full Corn Moon
  • October: Hunter’s moon, Blood Moon
  • November: Beaver Moon, Frosty Moon
  • December: Cold Moon, Long Night’s Moon

I love the idea of looking up in the middle of a barbecue and saying, sagely: “Ah yes, it’s a Strawberry Moon tonight!”

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The Proof is in the Pudding

Drum roll… today sees the launch of the  final instalment of the Swaddlecombe Mysteries – ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’! 

Some of you sharp-eyed readers may notice that the cover is different to the one we showed you a few months ago. We just didn’t feel the initial design was quite right and, as this book is set in the winter, I really wanted to use one of Julia’s lovely atmospheric photos, so we managed to get it changed – phew! ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ is available now in paperback from my website for £6.99 and it is also on Kindle for £3.99.

Here’s what it says on the book cover: “Victoria West’s first Christmas in sleepy Swaddlecombe looks like being a traditional country affair… but then, as the decorations go up, so does the body count. A Christmas wreath making course, liberally lubricated by local wines, comes to a tragic conclusion. Farmer Albert Moreton has things on his mind and the Reverend Ruminant has been busy plotting…

The whole village is getting festive with a ‘Caroloke’ in the pub and, of course, there’s the infamous old folks’ Christmas party to navigate.

Handsome men abound but are they really what they seem? Is the Lord of the Manor a philanderer? Is the gardener safe with his axe? Why would Tipple the pug’s owner abandon him, and how far would anyone go to get their hands on a fortune? Victoria and Albert have their work cut out to identify ‘who dunnit’ in this frenzied festive free-for-all.”

I do so hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it.

I will be on Create & Craft today (13th October) from 12 noon and throughout the weekend for lots of lovely demonstrations… and you can be sure I will be waving the new book about at every opportunity too! Remember, all dates are subject to change so please check the TV schedules on the day.

 

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