I’d never been to a Burns Supper before, though of course I knew about them.
Burns Suppers, in my mind, were loud, fun and full of Scottish people gathered together on Robert Burns’ birthday to celebrate his poetry and life. The main ritualistic novelty would be the serving of the haggis, the meat pudding pulled from the pot fresh,hot, dripping with juices, waiting to be punctured with a ready fork, brought to the head of the table on a huge silver platter at full arms’ length, steaming away as if it were a battleship – in my mind, maybe even the type of battleship called a ‘dreadnought”.
Haggis has always seemed scary to me, though I’m an adventurous eater. I have a block, actually, about the word “haggis”. Each time I try to remember the word I have to look it up. It escapes my memory, and all I can think about is the image of this large grey-brown tuberous shape, steaming furiously away.
The recently Burns Dinner (not Supper, Dinner) I attended was planned as a “new” form of Burns Supper, more easily digested, perhaps, by what one thinks of as “generalist” eaters (which is what most people are, no matter what they claim). Hosted by The Glenlivet whiskey, the idea was to reinvent the traditional Scottish foods to suit modern tastes. The main course of business, of course, was the whiskey tasting that accompanied the dinner as well as the dessert created and prepared at the end of the dinner by chef Christina Tosi of Milkbar/Momofuku fame.
Peter Karras, The Glenlivet Master of Scotch, gave tasting notes on the progression of four whiskeys at dinner. I’d already introduced myself to Peter at the bar before dinner simply because his jacket was the most magnificent color of dark burgundy (and after my first few sips of the whiskey cocktail they’d given us I absolutely had to comment on it). His sartorial taste was matched by his knowledgable and humorous instruction on the whiskeys.
No poetry was read at dinner except a hopeful sing along of Auld Lang Syne (the full version, with all the difficult pronunciations) at the end of dinner, but Burns’ poems were posted along the walls on elegant sconces, lit by flickering candles.
Care to join me?
“Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it's time to drink.” – Haruki Murakami
“Some of us look for the Way in opium and some in God, some of us in whiskey and some in love. It is all the same Way and it leads nowhither.” – W. Somerset Maugham
“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” - Mark Twain
“There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren't as good as others.” - Raymond Chandler
“I'd much rather be someone's shot of whiskey than everyone's cup of tea.”
- Carrie Bradshaw
“The light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude.”
- James Joyce, Dubliners
A few post-prandial offerings:
Christina Tosi’s special recipes, the poem:
Address to a Haggis
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.
Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis
- Robert Burns
You can find Karen Resta’s writing in Lucky Peach, The Danforth Review, The Best American Poetry Blog, The Christian Science Monitor, The Inquisitive Eater, The Red Rose Review, One Million Stories, Serious Eats, eGullet, The Gilded Fork as well as at her own blogs foodwritingencyclo, foodgeekology, and Postcards From the Dinner Table. She lives in a part of Brooklyn nobody ever talks about.