Burns Supper: The Haggis Experience

At approximately eight O’clock this past Tuesday night, Instructor in English Mary Fulton opened the first “Burns Supper” in PA history, and she hopes that this gathering will become an annual tradition here on Academy Hill. Clearly, unless you are either from Scotland or happen to have been to one before, you are probably not familiar with the definition of a “Burns Supper.” In one sentence, a Burns Supper is a dinner celebrating the very witty and fascinating poetry of early Scotland. The reason it is called a Burns Supper is that the dinner commemorates all Scottish poetry, but most prominently poetry of Robert Burns, who lived in Alloway, Scotland from 1759 to 1796 and, though he was born into a family of poor tenant farmers, eventually published many of Scotland’s greatest poems. His most notable work is the “Address to the Haggis.” The night was a festive mixture of Scotland culture with not only poetry, but food and music as well. To celebrate the “Address to the Haggis,” one of the courses of the evening’s dinner was actual Haggis. For those of you who don’t know what this is, I’ll get to that later. The first course was Cocka- Leekie Soup. This was not much different than most chicken soups. It consisted of many types of vegetables and some chicken in a very delicious broth. The next course, the Haggis, was the centerpiece of this dinner. Kassie Archambault ’06 and Brian Yates, Kassie’s bagpipe teacher, started off the procession of the Haggis. Yes, you read correctly, the HAGGIS PROCESSION. After Jannette Hannah beautifully read the “Address to the Haggis,” the Haggis was brought in on a silver platter. Now, this is the point where I suggest that those who have weak stomachs to stop reading. Haggis is an old Scottish food that was considered what the strong, tough Scotsman would eat. All the parts of the butcher’s animals that don’t get used for anything else are what compose Haggis. This means things like lungs, hearts, livers, and other organs that aren’t usually associated with your mouth. Haggis is all of this stuff, squished up, and cooked in the stomach of a lamb. When I heard that I would have to eat this delicacy, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Some people who tried it enjoyed the Haggis, but I p e r s o n a l l y would rather chew off my own foot than eat any more. It tasted like dog food. The next course followed this nastiness. See if you can guess what these to Scottish foods are: we had Bashed Neeps and Chappit Tatties. I didn’t know what to think either, but I was overjoyed to learn that the Neeps were turnips and the Tatties were mashed potatoes. Both items were really good, but you had to be careful not to get any Neeps in your Tatties. Dr. Gregory Wilkin then followed with the “Immortal Memory” speech in which he discussed the metaphors and similes that saturate Scottish writing. I believe one analogy he used was “It is as easy for a Scott to use an analogy as it is for the Dean of Students office to say ‘NO’.” Mrs. Hannah followed his dissertation; she read another Scottish poem with the same amount of energy and skill as she had in her first oration. This poem, which she read with a thick Scottish accent, was entitled “Tam O’Shanter.” Multiple toasts and the main course, delicious roast beef with winter vegetables, followed the reading of “Tam O’Shanter.” Though a traditional Burns dinner would have Haggis as the main course, sadly, Callum Thomas ’04 could only bring back a limited number of sheep stomachs for us to cook in (gross, huh?). Alex Lebow ’05 and Mac King ’05 then gave a very sweet “toast to the lassies” in the room. Though we drank sparkling cider in the place of champagne, the effect was still there. Kendra Allenby ’05 responded to the toast with one of her own. Archambault and Mr. Yates played for us once again and the dinner was wrapped up with cheese cake. The evening finished with wonderful finesse and was a memorable experience for all those that partook in the festivities. The dinner officially concluded with a song written by Burns himself; we sang Auld Lang Syne. For those of you who don’t know this song, you are either too young to have experienced a New Years celebration, or are from a different country. When this final performance ended, the students, myself included, scuttled back to our dorms at 10:15, where, with both full stomachs and full spirits, we greeted our bitter house councilors who missed out on all the fun.