I celebrated this Scottish holiday for the first time last year. Scotland’s National Poet, Robert Burns, was born on January 25, 1759. Burns Night recognizes Rabbie’s birthday, and his poetic contributions to the world, through a traditional dinner, whiskey and the reciting of his poems.
A typical Burns Night Dinner starts with a potato, leek and haddock soup, and ends with shortbread and other sweets. Whether a four course meal or a simple supper, at the core is haggis, served with neeps and tatties.
Last year, I simply drank a cup of hot Scottish tea and read Burns’ poetry. I was determined to serve haggis, neeps and tatties this year. With the change in my diet to plant based, I researched vegan options. To my delight, I found an easy to prepare vegan haggis recipe, posted by Mike Lewis.
I enjoyed creating my first haggis tonight. I had bagpipes playing on my iPod as I worked. The dish was easy to prepare and smelled wonderful as it baked. After popping the haggis into the oven, I prepared neeps and tatties. Neeps, otherwise known as rutabagas here in the US, were another first for me. I’ve never eaten a rutabaga before. As per a recipe I found online, I peeled and cut up the rutabaga and boiled in water, along with one large cut up carrot. After draining the liquid, I added sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper, and mashed the neeps.
Tatties are simply cooked potatoes. I prepared Yukon Gold potatoes, cutting them up and boiling in water. I added sea salt and pepper after draining. Keeping to my plant based diet, I didn’t add milk or butter.
After preparing my plate, I read Burns’ Address to a Haggis, which begins:
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 worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.
The line about haggis being the great chieftain o the puddin’ race makes me smile!
This was a good supper! The neeps and tatties were excellent. And the haggis? I sampled haggis when I visited Scotland in 2014. This didn’t taste like that haggis. But the vegan haggis-like dish was savory and very delicious. I will prepare it again, and not wait until the next Burns Night.
I sipped Scottish Thistle tea as I read several more poems by Robert Burns. As an American with deep Scottish roots, participating in this beloved holiday makes me feel closer to my heritage, while creating an ache that is only eased by a visit to bonnie Scotland.
Writing from his heart and soul, Burns was considered a people’s poet because he was most at home with the common folk, the farmers and inn keepers, pretty girls and rowdy lads, beggars and bawdy countrymen. I consider him my poet as well.
Happy birthday, Robert Burns!