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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Make it a lovely local Christmas!

As crafters, I think we can all understand how much skill is involved in turning a hobby into a successful business. At Christmas, I do like to try and find unusual gifts, rather than rushing to a high street chain or relying on Amazon to do my shopping. I also feel it is important to support local producers wherever I can. If we don’t, they won’t survive and the world will be a poorer, less interesting place.

I have already spotted several super local producers in my neck of the woods and will be getting quite a few local gifts for family and friends. I have included links (where I can) if you are interested in buying from my local producers, but I hope it will inspire you to have a look around your own area and see what is on offer. I bet you’ll be very pleasantly surprised!

Twool sounds lovely – and it is lovely! Super sustainable twool products are made in Devon from the ‘lustre’ long wool of the rare breed Whiteface Dartmoor sheep. Versatile twool yarn is the eco-friendly British alternative to jute. Their online shop is full of lovely gift ideas from garden twine to posh woolly bags to dog leads. They also have some special Christmas gifts including a ‘Chelsheepensioner Dumpling’ hand knitted from twool – you’ll have to go and look at their website now just to see what that is!

I confess I have mentioned The Dartmoor Soap Company before, but I truly believe it is worth another mention! Their soaps are fab and make great stocking fillers. Their artisan soaps are handmade using natural ingredients which, wherever possible, are sustainably sourced and harvested on Dartmoor. How good is that? They produce a wonderful range of soaps including aromatherapy soaps, soaps for men and even soap for pets! There is definitely a soap for every member of your family!

Clare’s Preserves is a true artisan producer of multi award winning marmalades, jams, jellies, chutneys and relishes. Based in the foothills of Dartmoor, all products are handmade by Clare in small batches, using traditional open pot methods. Clare’s preserves include some wonderful flavour combinations – Beetroot & Orange Chutney, Blackcurrant & Lime Jam, Lemon, Dartmoor Honey and Ginger Marmalade and many more! You’ll be spoilt for choice.

Not wishing to be accused of being sexist, but… here’s one for the boys well, definitely for Richard anyway! Dartmoor Brewery is the only brewery on the moor producing Dartmoor branded beer, the brewery is passionate about preserving and promoting Dartmoor and its traditions. The Brewery’s own shop at its HQ in Princetown sells everything from its popular beers — including Jail Ale, Dartmoor IPA, Dartmoor Best and Legend — to Dartmoor Brewery branded goods such as T-shirts, rugby shirts, hoodies and beer gift packs.

And finally… how about a bit of light Christmas reading material? I know, absolutely shameful self-promotion but the fourth book in the Swaddlecombe Series is entitled The Proof is in the Pudding and has a Christmassy theme, so I feel I am allowed to include it! You can buy this one (and the previous three!) in paperback from my website, or on Kindle.

 

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Seeds like a good idea…

Apart from seeds on breads and biscuits, or a few mixed in with muesli, I can’t say I was ever that interested in eating seeds. Somehow, they always sounded a bit too healthy and virtuous! As times change, ingredients go in and out of fashion and, today, seeds are very definitely ‘in’!

Seeds are full of protein, fats and other nutrients and, as people try to limit their intake of meat and eat more healthily, seeds are definitely worth a look. Modern research has revealed that most seeds are packed with B vitamins, essential for metabolic function and energy production.

If seeds strike you as rather bland, try toasting them – ­they can take on a whole different personality! For example, I have always found pumpkin seeds rather ‘green’ in taste and dull in texture. I was cooking a recipe that called for toasted pumpkin seeds, so I dutifully toasted some and discovered one of the tastiest healthy snacks ever! I now quite often toast a mix of seeds including pumpkin and sunflower and use it as a delicious crunchy, nutty addition to salads or veggie bakes.

Toasting seeds

Bake or roast seeds to enhance their flavour and give them a crunch. Dry bake seeds on baking parchment in a cooling oven or dry fry them over a medium heat in a heavy bottomed frying pan. You need to be careful not to burn them! I will often bake a whole batch, let them cool and then store them in Kilner jars (or anything airtight) for use later – they stay nice and crunchy and look lovely too!

You can create your own ‘sprinkles’ and add them to cereals, yogurt, porridge, cakes, breads, fish or veggie dishes or pretty much anything! The best seeds for toasting, in my view, are:

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Linseed
  • Sesame seeds

Once baked, you can add seasoning, such as salt and black pepper to create a delicious savoury sprinkle.

The maximum nutritional value of seeds can be released by soaking and sprouting them, triggering enzymes and making them easier to digest. You’ll need to buy edible seeds suitable for sprouting – not the type of seeds you sow in your veg beds! You should be able to find these in health food shops, or online. The sprouting process is probably something you did at school, it’s pretty easy and, after 4 or 5 days, you’ll have some lovely edible shoots to liven up your salads and your metabolism!

Sprouting seeds

Try these, they are nice and easy to grow, and delicious!

  • Mustard
  • Pumpkin
  • Alfalfa
  • Sunflower

 

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A ‘Quick’ drink inspiration!

There is such an amazing renaissance going on in the gin world, it is quite extraordinary. When I was young, it was a Gordon’s and tonic, and that was it! Over time, the spirit seemed to dwindle in the face of more trendy offerings… now it is the ‘in’ thing and go into most pubs and there’s a selection of 10 and sometimes 20 gins to choose from. There are gin producers popping up all over the place, and while I am not suggesting we all need to start guzzling G&Ts, I think it’s a very positive development and is creating local jobs and generally promoting a ‘local’ product which has to be a good thing.

Copyright: Quick Gin

I featured Tarquin’s Cornish gin a while ago and have recently spotted a new gin on the block that is made in Exeter – given its bright orange bottle, it’s hard not to spot! Called Quick Gin, the producers use a wide range of botanicals (the herbs and spices used to give each gin its distinct flavour) – juniper berries, coriander seeds, orange peel, angelica root, cassia bark, orris root powder, lemon peel, liquorice root powder, nutmeg and cinnamon. They then infuse orange and a hint of almond to round off the gin. Hence the orange bottle!

Looking at Quick’s website, I see that they have all sorts of fun cocktail suggestions including one for Autumn, designed to enliven these long Autumn nights… well, it’s a good excuse, anyway!

Quick Gin’s Autumn Cocktail:

  • 25ml Quick Gin
  • 25ml Pimms
  • 25ml rhubarb syrup
  • 50ml apple juice
  • 25ml sugar syrup
  • 12.5ml lemon juice
  • Pinch of cinnamon

Add all of the ingredients to a shaker, add ice and shake. Strain over ice and garnish with an apple and orange twist.

Copyright: Seedlip.

For those of you that don’t drink alcohol or, like me, often look for non-alcoholic options, I also spotted this on a recent trip to Jersey to visit my sister Kate. Called Seedlip Spice 94, it is a non-alcoholic spirit, it’s made like a gin with botanicals, but is definitely not a gin. The predominant flavour is clove rather than juniper, and, most importantly, it has no alcohol! Perfect if you’re a designated driver or you’re just not drinking at the moment. Seedlip contains allspice, grapefruit, lemon peel, cardamom, American oak and cascarilla bark. Together, they make a fresh, warming drink that is full of flavour but is alcohol free.

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Squeezing through the Corinth Canal

Here’s a final holiday blog for you… some pictures from the island of Sifros and our journey through the Corinth Canal. I hope you have enjoyed some of the highlights of the trip.

One of the main reasons we wanted to do this journey was to see what it was like for a medium sized boat to squeeze through the Corinth Canal. The really big boats can’t make it but we did last night and wow it was spectacular. With only a foot or two to spare each side we took about 45 minutes to cross through this gap carved through solid rock. If you can’t take this shortcut then it’s a 180-mile trip round!

We were guided by a pilot boat and sailed through at a constant 5 knots, excuse me if I don’t regurgitate the mass of techy information the captain gave me about pressures and constant speeds… I just smiled and nodded!

The island I wandered round today was called Sifnos. The guides are all lovely and each one insists their island is the best. I have been trying to be friendly and learn a little Greek and smiled at everyone saying “Calamari!” (Good morning) till the guide politely pointed out that I was yelling “Squid” at everyone and I should have been saying kalimera not calamari. I thought they were looking strangely at me!

The island is so pretty and some of the walls were from 1500BC… so something like 3,500 years old… amazing and the flowers were beautiful, mainly bougainvillea and, as always, tons of olive trees. Lots of locally made bits and pieces, honey, olive soap, amazing ceramics and the ever present wine.

I bought some honey yesterday when I visited the site of the Oracle of Delphi. Apparently, the honey is made from local bees who all use pollen from the calm, positive atmosphere of Delphi and so the honey will bring positive vibes every time it is used. Ok, so I was persuaded…. but it tastes nice so what the heck!

Sadly home again soon, but it has been a very educational but fun trip, will it influence my work, no probably not but it has given us a wonderful rest!

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