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Burns Supper

When I was growing up, I always thought it would’ve been more fun to be from a large Italian or Jewish family, with origins steeped in food traditions. It was the only frame of reference I knew outside of our family.    Our family of four, lived many states away from relatives so we had our own traditions, small as they were. But still, I was just a middle-class kid, growing up in South Florida.  Nothing too exciting.   

But the older I get, I realize that we are who we are meant to be, and celebrations around food can stem from anything.  Probably why I love any event that centers around food, and this girl loves a theme!  I need to have at least one food event on the calendar to keep me going, especially in our current, COVID world.

Without being able to travel, go out for dinner, or do much other than be-at-home, I have made it my mission this New Year, to “create” events out of days that otherwise would have just passed by unnoticed.  

Yesterday was the birthday of Scottish poet, Robert Burns.  You may think to yourself, who?  Well you know him, without really knowing him-

Robert Burns, Scottish Poet, 1759-1796
O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.
So fair art thou, my bonnie lass
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
Though it were ten thousand mile.
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.

Probably the best known opening line, romantic line, and best simile ever, it is accredited to Burns, but scholars speculate if he actually wrote it.  Regardless, modern singer, songwriter Bob Dylan claims it as his single biggest source of inspiration.  

Burns is also credited with the annual song we sing on New Year’s Eve,  Auld Lang Syne, which translates to “old, long since” or “a long time ago”.  Burns himself admits he wrote it down in order to preserve this oral tradition of his beloved Scotland.  No doubt, he probably heard it in a pub! Little did he know it would become the New Year’s anthem all over the world.  

Auld Lang Syne
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!
Chorus. For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Known as “Rabbie Burns” (use a Scottish accent here), he is considered the National Poet of Scotland, even though he died at age 37, some 225 years ago.  For the past 220 years on his Birthday, January 25th, Burns Suppers are held in Scotland and around the world to toast the Bard.  It seems like a great reason to drink a dram or two of Scotch Whiskey.

My family, and that of my husband all have Scottish, English, and Irish roots.  So this seemed fitting to add to our list of food celebrations.  A Burns Supper follows two centuries of tradition,  pomp and circumstance.  I did some research, and consulted my cookbook library, as well as the internet.  I was fortunate that I had been to Scotland twice in the past (over 20 years ago), as I had eaten many of the traditional foods.  This year was the first time I actually planned our own celebration, which would be based on traditions, but with some modern practicality. There were no kilts of fashion, nor were not lucky enough to be in Scotland, but we were able to enjoy great food, the company of our family “quarantribe” of five, and yes, a wee dram of whiskey, or two. 

We started with the Selkirk Grace*, had bagpipes playing (via Spotify, not a real piper… note that for next year!) to present the Haggis. A translated “Address to the Haggis” was read, a knife was ceremoniously plunged into the Haggis, and the rest of the food was brought to the table. Hearty toasts were made with both Scotch Whiskey, and Prosecco (ok, here I strayed from the Scottish theme, but can you blame me)?  We feasted, and the meal ended with Auld Lang Syne, and Scottish Shortbread. 

Scotch Haggis

Our menu mixed traditional Scottish fare you would expect for a Burns Supper, and others I added because we like them:

Scotch Eggs: These are not traditionally part of a typical Burns Supper, as they are more pub or picnic fare, but are truly Scottish.  They’ve been a favorite in my family for years.   They are hard-boiled eggs that are encased in sausage, and dipped in egg and then breadcrumbs, and fried.  Simply stated, they are “well tidy scran” (this is Scottish slang which refers to good grub at a pub). 

Haggis:  I purchased a one pound precooked haggis from Scottish Gourmet USA, an online Scottish grocer.  The haggis was lamb, onion, and oatmeal, and other tasty bits.  This was my fourth time eating haggis, and it is a food-stuff that gets a bad wrap, and has a poor publicist!  It is truly delicious.  

Whiskey Sauce: There are many variations of this sauce or gravy to serve on haggis.  While I usually am one to make things from scratch, some of the required ingredients are hard to find, so I opted for one from Scotland (again from Scottish Gourmet USA).  I tend to shy away from food items which claim the main ingredient to be alcohol, as it is sometimes overpowering. The shop owner recommended it and I’m glad I took her advice..  The main ingredients were cranberries, red currants, and elderberry, with just a hint of whiskey.  Similar to a thinner American Cranberry sauce, it was a perfect accompaniment to the Haggis.

Roast Beef:  This is a very traditional meat to serve at a Burns Supper..  We sous vide the top round (London Broil) roast for 24 hrs, and then to finish, seared in a hot, carbon steel pan.  It was flavorful, and tender.  (Also excellent with the whiskey sauce).

Neeps & Tatties,or Tatties & Neeps:  Neeps are mashed rutabagas.  A rutabaga is a cross between a turnip and a cabbage, and eaten in Scotland.  (Turnips are more common in Ireland and Britain.)  I cooked them until tender in boiling water, like potatoes.  Mashed and simply added some cream, butter, salt, and pepper.  Tatties are mashed potatoes.  I used Yukon Golds, as I prefer them for mashed potatoes.  Again just cooked until tender in boiling water, and added cream, butter, salt, pepper, and some sauteed shallots.  

Mushy Peas:  This is a traditional UK staple, served at many Chippers, as a side to Fish and Chips.  I’ve never made my own, as they call for Marrowfat Peas. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure if you can buy them in the US (I will have to investigate further).  But I recall having them in the UK, and thought they were so good, and different.  I’ve only ever had the canned version (which says a lot, because as a rule, I’m not that fond of canned veggies).  So again, not traditional, but they mean Scotland to me. I purchased them again through Scottish Gourmet USA, but have seen these in many supermarkets in their International section, as well as at World Market stores. 

So friends, this is probably more than you wanted to know about the McCullagh Burns Night Supper, 2021.  But I hope it might inspire you to do some searching for new food ideas and traditions – whether you are Scottish or not.

So friends, this is probably more than you wanted to know about the McCullagh Burns Night Supper, 2021.  But I hope it might inspire you to do some searching for new food ideas and traditions – whether you are Scottish or not.

Next up for me is planning a Chinese New Year Dinner which is February 12th.. This is one food celebration I’ve done for the past 15+ years.  I love all Asian foods, and the traditions are fun, and why not celebrate more than one New Year.   It’s supposed to be LUCKY….and who couldn’t use that these days!  And let’s be clear, I’m about as far away from being Chinese as it gets, and my take on it is very Americanized to be sure,….but we can all enjoy the flavor.

Food tells our story.  And even if it isn’t your story, we can enjoy and  learn from it!

*Oh and one last thing-another controversial poem attributed to Burns is the Selkirk Grace.  I’m not sure of the true origin, but if you’ve ever been to dinner at our house, this Scottish Grace is sung with vigor.  And it goes:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be Thankit!


  1. Thanks for your blog, nice to read. Do not stop.

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