… and how did an English vegetarian get here?
A while back, when my husband and I still did astronomy, we were seconded to the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes on La Palma in the Canary Islands. It was a great place to work and ultimately to start a family. The ING is an international collaborative venture and that meant that a lot of people from different countries, backgrounds and cultures were brought together to live in close quarters on an (relatively) isolated island. Luckily, the locals are very friendly, inclusive and love to party. In fact, they have a full calendar of saints’ days, events and fiestas to work through and that entails dressing up (often in fancy dress), music, dancing and setting off fireworks.
A knock-on effect of this attitude was that the staff at the observatory would punctuate this run of fiestas with celebrations and customs from home. And so it was there on La Palma, that I celebrated Burns Night for the first time and it has become something of a ritual ever since, particularly because it is the only time I can persuade the whole family to eat swede!
Burns night (25th January) celebrates the life and poetry of the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796), also known as the Bard of Ayrshire. The supper tradition was started a few years after his death by a group of his friends reminiscing his career and well over two centuries later Burns night has become a nationwide event with recitals of the poet’s works and a haggis dinner.
At its simplest, a Burns supper consist of a meal of haggis, tatties and neeps, usually washed down with whiskey. Haggis is a traditional Scottish sausage made from a sheep’s stomach stuffed with diced sheep’s liver, lungs and heart, oatmeal, onion, suet and seasoning. Tatties are mashed potato and neeps are mashed swede.
Throughout January it is easy to get hold of haggis in just about any supermarket, although I don’t think that most are packed into the traditional sheep’s stomach. Of course, the haggis part of the supper is a bit problematic for vegetarians. However, it turns out that there is a readily available veggie version and it is actually quite tasty. It contains oatmeal still, but has substituted pulses and seeds for the meaty part.
So I am off now off for a Burns supper and then I’ll be listening to some of Rabbie’s poetry. The BBC website has some great recordings online. Here’s a link to Tam o’Shanter.