Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's haggis the horrible time

In other words, Robbie Burns Day

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Get ready to be excited, because it's Robbie Burns Day, the sacred day when Scottish persons around the world stop arguing long enough to celebrate the birth of a poet whose works most of us have never read and who, as far as anyone knows, is currently dead.

The highlight of this celebration is a traditional dinner wherein people of Scottish heritage put on their kilts, pretend to tune up their bagpipes and feast on the national dish of Scotland, by which I mean haggis, which is technically a "pudding," but more like a mutant sausage with a frightening resemblance to a huge garden slug.

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If, like me, you celebrate your heritage by plastering your rec room with tartan wallpaper, you will know haggis is made by combining the disgusting things you find inside of a sheep -- heart, liver, lungs, windpipe -- with onions and oatmeal, stuffing it into a sheep's stomach and then boiling it. Yum, right?

Before you get to eat it, however, some kilt-wearing person at the fancy dinner is legally required to recite Burns' legendary poem Address to a Haggis, which contains the following stirring lyrics: "Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face/Great chieftain o' the puddin race!"

No one has a clue what that means, but that is not the point. The point is, today is the day when anyone capable of doing a passable Sean Connery impersonation is expected to pay tribute to the legendary poet by willingly eating the entrails of a barnyard animal.

You are probably wondering what haggis tastes like. That is an excellent question. The truth is, no one really knows, because no Scottish person in their right mind would eat it. It's basically a prank food served to gullible tourists.

First waiter: "Seriously? They ate a sheep's stomach?"

Second waiter (laughing): "Yes, and I'm giving them boiled eyeballs for dessert!"

But this year, because you, the reader, have a right to know, I decided to throw caution to the wind and conduct a scientific haggis taste test in my very own kitchen.

I feel obligated to do things you would never do yourselves, provided I do not have to leave my home and I can persuade members of my family to do them first so I can monitor them for signs of death.

I could have scoured the city for a "fresh" haggis, but that was pointless, because lurking in the back of our pantry was a perfectly good can of haggis I found at a specialty foods store and gave to my son for Christmas several years ago.

Oddly, when he moved out with his girlfriend, my son "forgot" to take the canned haggis with him. When I opened the can and pried the haggis out, it plopped onto the plate in a single grey lump of internal organ meatiness. Next, I heated it up via the method recommended on the can's label, namely zapping it for several minutes in the microwave until it was reduced to a steaming formless mass.

Then I served it to my Expert Tasting Panel. You know how sometimes, when you're afraid to try something new and different, but eventually you work up the courage and, surprise, you discover it's actually pretty good. Well, that's not what happened here.

The first taster was my wife, She Who Must Not Be Named, who initially refused to take part until I crossly pointed out her family is from Norway, where the national dish is "lutefisk," dried cod soaked in lye and reconstituted into a gelatinous substance with the lethal aroma of an old hockey bag.

"Oh, it stinks," is what my wife shrieked as she nibbled tiny forkful of haggis, "Oh! Oh! OHMYGAWD! IT'S REPULSIVE! Do NOT give that to the dogs!" Making odd gagging noises, she then dashed for the main bathroom.

When I confronted my college-age daughter, she glared and clenched her teeth the way she did when she was a toddler. Reluctantly, she stuck out her tongue and touched it to the tip of the fork. "Ewwwww! It's disgusting! I HATE YOU!" she squealed, before stomping away.

I personally didn't think it was entirely horrible. It had a texture like quinoa, maybe Cheerios, mixed with ancient ground beef, then stuffed in a sock and boiled. It had a bland taste, like eating hot cement mortar. Given my heritage, I was reluctant to waste the leftovers, so I ignored my wife's orders and secretly gave a helping to our two dogs, Cooper and Zoe.

They not only licked their bowls clean; they licked the kitchen floor and each other, too. Then they wagged their tails in delight and stared up at me in an admiring manner that suggested they would happily award me several Nobel prizes.

It made me feel very proud. Because I had no idea they were Scottish.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2012 A2

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