Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Burns Supper

Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, was born in Ayrshire, in 1759. Scotland's best loved bard is famous for his political views, revolutionary behaviour, his love for the lassies and of course his world famous songs and poems including Auld Lang Syne, which is generally sung as a folk song at Hogmanay and other New Year celebrations around the world.

Although Burns lived a short life, dying at the age of 37, it was fulfilling and eventful. Starting out as a farmer then moving on to become a writer, Burns travelled throughout Scotland where he gathered inspiration for much of his work. The stunning Ayrshire scenery and the romantic setting of Dumfries helped provide the insight for compiling much of his romantic material.

The first suppers were held in Ayrshire at the end of the 18th century by his friends on the anniversary of his death, 21 July, and they have been a regular occurrence ever since. The first Burns club, known as The Mother Club, was founded in Greenock in 1801 by merchants born in Ayrshire, some of whom had known Burns. They held the first Burns Supper on what they thought was his birthday on 29 January 1802, but in 1803 discovered from the Ayr parish records that the correct date was 25 January 1759, and since then suppers have been held to 25 January, Burns' birthday.

Suppers may be formal or informal but they should always be entertaining. When the cook brings in the haggis, everyone stands, while a piper plays bagpipes and leads the way to the host's table, where the haggis is laid down. The host, or perhaps one of the guests, then recites the Address To a Haggis.

At the end of the poem, a whisky toast will be proposed to the haggis. Then the company will sit and enjoy the meal. The main course is traditionally served with mashed potatoes (tatties) and mashed neeps (known in England as swede but in Scotland as turnip, or in North America as rutabaga and turnip). A dessert course, cheese courses, coffee, etc. may also be part of the meal.