[Northkeep] Haggis (longish)

Melissa Long Blevins hlecalais at sbcglobal.net
Fri Aug 4 19:16:00 PDT 2006

Mistress Talana,
  Yes please, and thank you (concerning that last line)!  
    Now, please do not take this badly, for I do not wish you ill, BUT in this condition you ARE very entertaining and informative! LOL!

Jennifer Carlson <talana1 at hotmail.com> wrote:
  With all the talk of haggis, that “great chieftain o’ the pudden race,” and 
with me being down with bronchitis, I pulled out my cookbooks. Be warned – 
I’m in blathering mood, I have an English degree, and I’m not afraid to use 
it. Read on only if you’re really interested.

Most people have a vague idea of what haggis is: something to do with 
sheep’s lungs, or windpipes, or liver, or oatmeal, and a stomach is in there 
somewhere. That’s about as accurate as saying that SCA fighting is two guys 
whacking each other with sticks. Most folks, bless their hearts, just don’t 
know any better.

That being said, let’s make sure everyone in Northkeep knows better. First, 
haggis is a pudding. A pudding, you say? How so? A pudding is a dish 
that’s thickened, usually with a cereal filler. Jello Pudding ™ is a 
pudding. So is an Apple Charlotte. So are most sausages. So is the 
dressing (or stuffing, if you prefer that dish) you serve with your 
Thanksgiving turkey. A Yorkshire pudding is nothing but a big popover 
seasoned with roast beef drippings, but it’s a pudding just the same.

So, let’s dip into that collection of puddings and lift out the subset 
called “sausages.” A sausage is generally a mixture of some kind of meat, 
fat, and seasonings. Often a starch filler, eggs, or milk is added as a 
binder. Sausages may be stuffed into a casing - usually part of an animal’s 
digestive tract - or served “loose.” Most casing sausages are stuffed into 
intestines, but some sausages use the stomach. Chodin, a Cajun style 
sausage, and haggis are but two examples.

How do we know that haggis has always been a sausage stuffed into an 
animal’s stomach? The linguist James Orchard Halliwell says “hag” is a 
northern dialect term for “belly.” A 1530 description of haggis, by 
Palsgrave, describes it as a pudding of the “caillette de mouton.” 
“Caillette” refers to the sheep’s fourth stomach. Now we know that the 
meaning of “haggis” in period does refer to a sausage with a stomach casing.

And what went into that stomach casing? As with any sausage, it depends. 
One of the earlier recipes we have is from the 1600s, and was made of a 
calf’s haggis. The cereal binder was breadcrumbs, and the recipe is 

Yep, haggis is not solely a Scottish dish. (Your Excellency, take a minute 
and let your blood pressure return to normal.) In fact, haggis was common 
in England until about the seventeenth century. Hmm. James IV of Scotland 
takes the English throne in 1603, and haggis falls out of favor in England 
during the following century. Go figure.

Back to the ingredients: A recipe from circa 1430, “Hagws of a schepe” 
(Harleian MS. 279), uses breadcrumbs and is seasoned with saffron and 
pepper. This, too, is an English recipe.

Until we get past the Jacobite rebellions in the 1700s, we don’t have much 
detail on how haggis was made in Scotland, though experts are pretty sure 
the Scots always used oats as the binder. At least something good came out 
of the Battle of Culloden – the Scots started writing things down. And 
before you accuse me of being anti-Caledonian, I’ll have you know my mother 
is a Gillis - that’s a sept of the MacPhersons, if you please, and as 
Highland as heather and broom!

Dairmaid’s sainted Scottish grandmother (a formidable woman of the 
Campbells) left him a nifty cookbook called “The Scots Kitchen, Its 
Traditions and Lore, With Old-Time Recipes” by F. Marian McNeill. If you 
run across a copy of it, buy it. It’s cool. Miss McNeill gives recipes 
“Deer Haggis,” made only with deer heart and liver - no lungs or stomach.
“Traditional haggis,” including details on how to properly cook the pluck, 
which was depicted in nauseating detail on an episode of “History’s Dirtiest 
“Meg Dodd’s Haggis,” which uses lemon juice and cayenne, and won the “Prize 
Haggis” at a prestigious haggis competition in Edinburgh.
“Haggis Royal,” which is made of mutton, suet, beef-marrow, breadcrumbs or 
oatmeal, anchovies, parsley, lemon, pepper, cayenne, eggs, and red wine.

There’s even mention of a fish haggis, called “haggamuggi,” made of the 
stomach of a fish filled with hashed (finely chopped) livers and sunds (air 
bladders) and boiled. I’ll pass, thank you.

Jeff Smith, in “The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors,” offers a 
recipe made of beef heart, beef liver, and lamb, stuffed in sausage casings. 
It passed muster with the Medinah Pipe and Drum Band of Chicago.

Apparently, there is no one true way to make a haggis, and it needn’t be a 
nasty, smelly, possibly disgusting dish.

So, now you know.

Oh, and that comment earlier about people thinking that SCA fighting is just 
two guys whaling the crap out of each other with sticks? Halliwell also 
says that “to cool someone’s haggis” is to beat him soundly.

In servicio,


(Sources and recipes available upon request)

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