It’s Burns Night, the anniversary of the birth (January 25, 1759) of Robert Burns. Let’s celebrate with something Scottish. Haggis, a traditional Scottish dish and a must-have for a Burns Night meal, is a type of sausage made from sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs that is minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt. Traditional recipes call for this mixture to be simmered in a sheep’s stomach or intestine for a few hours. Commercial haggis is usually prepared in a casing. Robert Burns’ poem “Address to a Haggis” raised it to the status of Scotland’s national dish.
Is there that ower his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
Oh how unfit!
But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his wallie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.
from “Address to a Haggis”
Now that we know what haggis is and what it can do for you, we ask why is it called haggis? Why not something like “sheep stuff sausage” or “mutton offal” or something more descriptive, though less appetizing.
The first recorded usage of the word dates to the fifteenth century. There are two theories on the word’s origins. The first posits that the Middle English word hagese derived from the Old English word haggen, which means to chop. So, haggis refers to chopped up stuff. The second theory traces haggis to the Old French word agace, meaning magpie. In this case, haggis is analogous to the hodgepodge of items the birds are believed to collect for their nests. While the chopping theory sounds more likely, I’m cheering for the bird.
Attribution: By Adrian Pingstone (Arpingstone) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.