Above: Haggis and black puddings hanging in a Scottish Butcher
Above: Haggis and trimmings for a Burns Night Supper.
Above: A close up of the interior of a haggis. Shockingly it isn't very horrific at all and is mainly plumped grains of oats.
Of all the traditional foods in Britain, the one dish that everybody has an opinion on is the haggis*. To a large degree these views are largely in the negative and curiously it is those individuals that have never tried a haggis that are likely to be the most vocal. So what it is about the haggis that drives the formation such opinions? Is it simply that it's composition of offal is universally recognised and therefore it is to be shunned? In a large part this is likely to be true, the consumption of offal in for many people is a repulsive act of utmost horror. While there is a growing trend to produce and consume food in a more environmentally aware and humane manner, this has made little impact on the amount of offal that is consumed. The idea of eating more of an animal other then muscle tissue may in fact be an obvious way to address this issue simply has not occured to most people.
Even those with masochistic eating habits tend to consume offal in the relatively safe environment of a restaurant - there is also a hierarchy of offal acceptance. Calf liver is classy, lamb liver is common, beef cheeks at a restaurant are simply wonderful, sweetbreads ditto, but it's not somthing you prepare at home and who on earth would want to eat lungs? Perhaps this is part of the issue with haggis, it's popular image makes no appologies for its contents, and in fact it is it's in your face love-me-for-what-I-am-or-piss-off offally contents are the well emphasized point of the pudding. Another factor is that it has been promoted as the symbol of Scottish identity for the last 250 years and for many people the consumption of icons is just as difficult to stomach. In the Scotland the haggis perfectly suited the original intention to project an image of uncomplicated rustic virtue in contrast to the effete foods of the overrefined society south of the border. Most haggis is eaten for what it is, a tasty meal, but in many cases the original image of rustic simplicity has been erroded to the point that eating haggis it is seen simply as an act of Scottish masochistic bravado and shallow cultural identity. The worse example I have seen of this was during a convention dinner at a Scottish themed New Zealand city, where the "haggis" was piped in with great pomp, The Poem as read and the dirk stuck in, but no haggis was offered for consumption. It later transpired that there was none to offer, as the "haggis" was actually a prop of sponge rubber filled with water and microwaved to produce a steaming effect.
This hasn't always been the case, for most of it's history haggis hasn't been specifically Scottish and even in Scotland the esteem in which it has been held has waxed and waned with contempory trends and local requirements. The Scottish poet William Dunbar (circ. 1460 -1520) in his vitriolic Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie shows a very negative view of haggis eaters and in his To the Merchants of Edinburgh rather then been a symbol of national pride is a painted as an embarrassing and shameful dish of rustics.
Pansches, pudingis of Jok and Jame.
Think ye not schame,
Sen as the world sayis that ilk,
In hurt and sclander of your name?
Dunbar's views are repeated in other sources enough to suspect that the haggis wasn't seen by all Scots as being a dish to be proud of, let alone the national dish. However, by the 18th century there is a change in attitude in part influenced by perceived or real losses of Scottish identity and growing English influence North of the Border. The reception and honouring of Samuel Johnson (never one to compliment a Scot) at St. Andrew's University provoked an outraged response from Robert Fergusson in his poem To the PRINCIPAL and PROFESSORS of the University of St. Andrew's on their superb treat to Dr. SAMUEL JOHNSON in which he suggest presenting Johnson with real Scottish meal and in this case a real Scottish meal means haggis for first course (second course was boiled sheep's head).
Imprimis, then, a haggis fat,
Wed tottl'd in a seything pat,
Wi' spice and ingans weel ca'd thro',
Had help'd to guft tlie stirrah's mow,
An' plac'd itfell in truncher clean
Before the gilpy's.' glowrin een.
A Good Scotch Haggies
Make the haggis-bag perfectly clean, parboil the draught ; boil the liver very well, so as it will grate ; dry the meal before the fire ; mince the draught and a pretty large piece of beef very small ; grate about half of the liver ; mince plenty of the suet and some onions small ; mix all these materials very well together, with a handful or two of the dried meal ; spread them on the table, and season them properly with salt and mixed spices ; take any of the scraps of beef that are left from mincing, and some of the water that boiled the draught, and make about a choppin of good stock of it ; then put all the haggis meat into the bag, and that broth in it ; then sew up the bag : but be sure to put out all the wind before you sew it quite close. If you think the bag is thin, you may put it in a cloth. If it is a large haggis, it will take at least two hours' boiling.
At almost the same time another recipe for a Scottish haggis was published in England by Charlotte Mason in The Ladies’ Assistant for Regulating and Supplying the Table (from the 6th edition of 1787, first published in 1773).
A Scotch Haggas.
CHOP the heart, lights, and chitterlings of a calf, with a pound of suet cut very fine, seasoned with pepper and salt; mix it with a pound of the best Scotch oatmeal; roll it up, and put it into a calf's bag; a pint of good cream, with a little allspice and beaten mace mixed with it is very good, but some like it better without.
To make it sweet.
TAKE the chitterlings, heart, lights, and suet, with some grated nutmeg, a pound of currants washed and picked, a pound of raisins stoned and chopped, and half a pint of mountain, mixed well together, let it boil in the calf's bag two hours it must be sent to table in the bag.
Contrasting MacIver and Mason's recipes is of particular interest. MacIver's recipe is what most people would now recognise as a "Scottish Haggis", Mason's recipe is called "Scotch" but is actually a fairly common variation on an English haggis. It is also possible that these "English style haggis" were also made in Scotland, however we simply don't know if this is true as there are no other examples of early Scottish haggis to compare with MacIver's recipe and her version was to influence all published recipes that came after her. I mention that Mason's recipe appears to be more English, so what were these English haggis like before they were lost to the jugganaut of growing Scottish identity in the 18th century?
While it may come as a surprise to many people, the haggis has quite a long history in English cookery. The first recognisable recipe is found in the 15th century, from Harlein MSS 279** we have the following (modernised form).
Hagws of a schepe (Haggis of a sheep)
Take the ropes [entrails] with the tallow and parboil them; then hack them small; grind pepper, and Saffron, and bread, and yolks of Eggs, and Raw cream or sweet Milk: mix all together, and put in the great wombe of the Sheep, that is, the stomach; and then boil it and serve forth.
A similar recipe written in a rhyming verse of a Northern English dialect under the name of "hagese" is also found in the 15th century Liber cure Cocorum. By the 16th and into the 17th century these English recipes had changed very little, with the exception that the animal of choice was no longer a sheep, but a calf (as is seen in Mason's recipe) as can been seen in the following examples
The Second Part of a good Huswifes Jewel by Thomas Dawson 1597
To make a Haggas pudding
Take a peece of a Calves Chaldron and parboile it, shred it so small as you can, then take as much Beefe Sewet as your meat, ten shred likewise, and a good deale more of grated bread, put this together, and to then seven or eight yolkes of egs and two or three whites, a little creame, three or four spoonfuls of rosewater, a little Pepper, Mace and nutmegs, and a good deale of sugar, fill them and let them be sodden with a very soft fire, and shred also with a little Winter savoury, parsely and Time, and a little Pennyroyal with your meat.
The Compleat Cook or, The Whole Art of Cookery, 1694
Take a Calves Chaldron, boil it, and when it is cold mince it very small, then take the yolks of four eggs, and the whites of two, some cream, grated bread, sugar, salt, currans, rosewater, some beef-suet or marrow, sweet herbs, marjoram, thyme, parsley, and mingle together; then having a sheep-maw ready dressed, put it in the aforesaid materials and boil it.
Others take a good store of Parsely, savoury, tyme, onions and oatmeal groats chopped together; and mingled with some minced beef suet, with cloves, mace, pepper and salt, fill the paunch, so it up and boil it: when boiled, cut a hole in it and put in some beaten butter, with yolks of three eggs. Another very good way.
Others take a good store of Parsely, savoury, tyme, onions and oatmeal groats chopped together; and mingled with some minced beef suet, with cloves, mace, pepper and salt, fill the paunch, so it up and boil it: when boiled, cut a hole in it and put in some beaten butter, with yolks of three eggs.
Another very good way.Take a Calves chaldron or muggets, boil it tender and mince small, put to it grated bread, the yolks of six eggs, with as many whites, some cream, sweet herbs, spinage, succory, sorrel, strawberry-leaves minced small, a little butter, pepper, cloves, mace, cinamon, ginger, currans, sugar, salt dates, and boil it in a napkin or calves-panch; being boiled, dish it and trim with scraped sugar, stick it with sliced almonds, and run over with beaten butter.
There are numerous other similar recipes published during the 17th century. One thing that characterised many of the is repetion. For the most part they are very similar to the 15th century recipe and several instances where "Hogges Pudding" as been mis-printed as "Hagges Pudding" raises the question of if these haggis were ever actually made at all. However there is additional evidence that these puddings were made, one class of haggis pudding is actually stuffed in sausage casings, not the paunch, the latter refered to as the "haggis" is actually minced fine and mixed with other ingredients in a similar way described in the calf chaldron recipes previously mentioned. There are also some non-cook book references to the consumption of haggis in England:
The trial of Willaim New Bolt and Edward Buttler, Printers, for Hige Teason, in compassing and imagining the death of there most sacred majesties King William and Queen Mary (from Harleian MSS Brit. Mus No 6846, art. 104, fol. 385) circ 1692-5.
Then the evidence for the king and queen were called and sworn, the first of which stood and gave account, that about the 30th of May last past, he was in company of the prisoners, at the Ship, in Charles-street, in Covent-garden, where they had an haggas to dinner.
It is most likely only a coincidence that these pro-Stuart printers being tried for treason where mentioned to have been eating haggis. what is clear is that haggis in one form or another was being served in at least one London tavern until at least the end of the 17th century. During the 18th century the focus of haggis consumption moves dramatically north and is associated with Scotland, as previously discussed. However, there still remained pockets of English haggis eaters (especially in the North of England) and most provincial or dialect English dictionaries of the period have a variation on haggis. It is known from early 19th century collections of traditional songs that haggis (pronounced "haggish") was consumed by pit workers around Tyne-side and that it was actually sold in the Newcastle market. This was also true of the North-West of England, with one song describing the food typical of rustic feasts in Cumberland/Westmoreland as consisting of:
For dinner, we'd stew'd geuse and haggish, Cow-leady, and het bacon pye, Boil'd fluiks, tatey-hash, beastin' puddin', Saut sal mi m. and cabbish ; forby Pork, pancakes, black puddin's, sheep trotters, And custert, and mustert, and veal, Grey-pez keale, and lang apple dumplin's
This part of the country also had a specific type of sweet Christmas haggis known as Hack or Hackin Pudding.
What is clear from these descriptions of historic haggis recipes is that when Charlotte Mason wrote her recipe for haggis, although her recipe is clearly part of a wider tradition of haggis making in England and Scotland, she responded to the increasing recognition of the haggis as a Scottish national dish and labeled the dish as "A Scotch Haggas".