Burns' Night

Robert Burns is Scotland's most well-known and best loved poet: even south of the Border, most people can quote the odd line of Burns' poetry : "Wee sleekit, cowrin' tim'rous beastie......" (that's as far as I can get on that one) and of course there's "Auld lang Syne," which everybody thinks they know and nobody actually does.

He was born in Alloway, Ayrshire in south-west Scotland, on January 25th 1759, and Burns' Night is celebrated on or around his birthday. For the details of his life and works there are many websites already on-line, so I am not about to go reinventing the wheel : click here for an excellent starting point.


A Burns' Night supper must always begin with Burns' own Selkirk Grace : "Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat and we can eat, And sae the Lord be thankit." The menu usually consists of cock-a-leekie soup (or Scotch Broth) and haggis with "tatties and neeps" (also known as clapshot - don't ask me why!), Tipsy Laird (sherry trifle to you and me) followed by oatcakes and cheese, all washed down with liberal tots of good Scotch whisky! The haggis is "piped" in - brought in ceremoniously by the chef accompanied by a piper - and "addressed" with Burns' own Address to a Haggis poem before being cut and served. Traditional speeches and toasts punctuate the meal (...more Scotch...) and Burns' Night suppers range from the formal to the frankly uproarious excuse for yet more partying, but they all follow the same basic format.



1 x 1-1.5 Kg (2-3lb) chicken
1 onion, cut into quarters
400-800g (1-2lb) leeks, cut into inch long (2-3cm) pieces,
white and green parts to be kept separate
Chicken stock from boiling the chicken
1 bay leafand a bunch of parsley
6-12 prunes, soaked overnight
salt and pepper

Put the chicken in a large pot and nearly cover with water, add the herbs and salt and slowly bring to the boil. Skim, cover and simmer until tender, for approximately 2 hours. Remove the bird, and allow to cool slightly. Meanwhile add the green part of the leeks to the stock and add the prunes (cut ito quarters) and continue to simmer. Cut the meat from the chicken into smallish pieces and return them to the soup, with the white part of the leeks. Simmer for a further 10 minutes. Check the seasoning and serve.
Cock-a-Leekie Soup is better the next day, so if you have time, try and prepare it in advance and reheat it when needed.

400-800g (1-2 lb potatoes), peeled and cubed
An equal amount of peeled and cubed swede (turnip)
salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes and swede separately until they are soft but not mushy (test with a fork) and drain them well. Mash together with a knob of butter and salt and pepper to taste.
Heat some beef dripping in a frying pan until hot - a haze will begin to appear above the pan: DON'T let it burn. Fry the "bashed tatties and neeps" until browned on the bottom; turn it by tipping carefully onto a plate and sliding back into the pan to brown the other side.
You may prefer to form the mixture into small flattened cakes or patties and frying these, turning them with a fish-slice when done on one side.

Serve with the haggis and a rich gravy.

1 Victoria sponge cake, sliced
300g (3/4lb) raspberry jam
2 tablespoons of brandy or Drambuie 1 wine glass of sherry
egg custard (see below)
300g (3/4lb) raspberries
1 tablespoon caster sugar
250 ml (1/2 pint) double cream
Toasted almonds to decorate

To make the custard:
250 ml (1/2 pint) full-cream milk
150 ml (1/3 pint) double cream
2 egg yolks
50g caster sugar
a few drops of vanilla essence

Place the sponge in the base of a large glass bowl and spread with the raspberry jam. Mix the sherry and the brandy and sprinkle evenly over the sponge, allowing it time to soak in. Next add a layer of raspberries.
To make the custard, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla essence until it is pale and creamy. Heat the milk and cream together in a saucepan until it just reaches boiling point then stir carefully into the egg mixture. Once it is well blended, return to the pan and stir continuously over a low heat until the custard thickens. Pour into a dish and allow it to cool. When it is quite cool, pour the custard over the layer of fruit, spreading evenly. Next whip the double cream, add sugar to sweeten and spoon on top of the (set) custard. Decorate with toasted almonds.