27 February 2006

Scottish Diet - the haggis

Ah the haggis! - "great chieftain o the puddin race" as my great ancestor the poet Rabbie Burns wrote. There is little that can compare to the smell and taste of a plate of steaming haggis, tatties and neeps on a cold January evening. It is at such moments that the Scotsman, tucking into his favourite meal, with a wee dram in his glass and watching the "wifie" shoveling coal on the fire, is in true Scottish heaven.

There have been many false stories circulated about the haggis. These are mostly spread by Scottish butchers ruthlessly trying to guard the secret of this famous dish. Well just like the masked magician revealed all those magic secrets we will today fearlessly reveal the truth behind the haggis.

Foreigners are frequently told that the haggis is a three legged beastie that runs around the Scottish hills (in only one direction because of its odd number of legs) and that Scotsmen go on haggis hunts to catch them. Many foreigners believe such romantic stories but we can assure you that there is not a grain of truth in that story. In fact it is the little known "tattieboggle" that has three legs and runs around the hills. Scotsmen do go hunting the tattieboggle but not for the table because they are such poor eating.

No the haggis is in plain and simple terms a stuffed sheep's stomach. Now you may wonder what the big secret is at this point. Well the art and the mystery lies in how the sheep's stomach is stuffed. Let me take you through the technique point by point.

First of all the tastiest haggis is always made from a wild sheep's stomach. So the first thing is to make sure you have a wild sheep. Usually a couple of swipes across the face with a brush handle makes them pretty wild but the method is not important.

Having got your wild sheep it is then vital to ensure that none of the valuable stuffing is wasted once you start. Personally I would recommend a rubber bung but traditional recipes call for a cork bung.

You should recruit some friends for the insertion of the bung because at this point if the sheep was not already wild it will be by the time you have finished.

It is very very very important that the bung is well secured as the last thing you want is the bung working loose and popping out over the coming weeks. I recommend some ordinary garden wire for this. Make a hole in the top of the bung then, having inserted the bung at the rear, bring the wire forward and tie it tightly to the sheep's horns.

Now having secured your wild and fully bunged sheep we come to the stuffing. Let me be very clear on one point here. I am absolutely not talking about the kind of sheep stuffing that takes place on Valentines day in some of the more remote farmhouses in Scotland.

We are talking about force feeding the sheep. The wifie should now proceed to boil up at least two large bowls of oatmeal each day into which should be chopped any leftovers from the evening meal. Allow to cool a little and then force it down the sheep's throat. It is not uncommon for the sheep to proceed to tenderise its own meat at this point by running up and down the kitchen banging into the walls.

Some friends of mine like that slightly "smoked" flavour to their haggis. If this is your preference then you should take the sheep with you to the nearest bar each evening. For an extra touch the sheep can be given cheese and onion crisps for that cheesy haggis flavour. Remember though that this method of smoking your haggis will not be possible once the smoking ban comes into force so you will need to smoke it at home.

You should continue force feeding the sheep for around two to three weeks until the bung looks like it will not hold. You must now act quickly !

This is the tricky bit. Hold the sheep, stomach up, with its face up near your groin ( please re-read the comments about Valentines Day sheep stuffing to avoid confusion here!) then, with your sharpest knife, you must cut along the length of the sheep. Then without hesitation reach in and secure the stomach at each end with a reef knot. Many a haggis has been ruined at this stage so you must do all this quickly.

You should now be in possession of one well stuffed sheep's stomach or haggis. The haggis should really be cured in a steamy bathroom for a few weeks but if you really can't wait it can of course be cooked and eaten immediately. Yum.
More soon.

21 February 2006

The Kilt

Those of you who have read the previous posting about the Scottish Midgie will understand when I say that the Kilt is a clear sign of Scottish manliness and fearlessness in the face of terrors that would make other men quake.
What other race of men, inhabiting a lonely moorland terrain infested with bloodsucking beasties would decide to adopt a dress (sorry the Kilt) as their national dress. And not only that but decide that if worn correctly it should be worn without underwear!

This is the secret initiation rite of Scottish manhood. It is a little known fact that not all Scottish men are entitled to wear the Kilt. In the Autumn of the year that a boy reaches 15 or so he is inspected - down there - by the Clan Chief's wife and she either pronounces "och he's jist a wee boy yet!" or declares his entry into the rite of manhood with a shout of "Jees will ye look at they yins!"

The young man is then stripped of his trousers and underwear and fitted with a Kilt. He is then taken with great ceremony to the nearest boggy bit of ground to test if he is "fit fer the Midgie".

The young man is expected to remain in the bog with his legs wide apart and holding a large stone above his head for not less than two hours while clouds of midges track him down by the odour of fear which he is usually giving of.
At the end of the two hours the Scotsman then has three large stones only one of which he has been carrying above his head. To ease his pain his pals them take him to the boozer and get him completely "oot o his face".
Needless to say few modern men survive this ordeal which is why now in Scotland we see only the occasional man wearing a Kilt.

Two Fundamentalists and an atheist....

Two fundamentalists a Muslim and a Christian and an Atheist are on a plane which is about to crash. There is only one parachute. The Fundamentalist Muslim grabs the Fundamentalist Christian and starts to slap him on the face shouting "death to infidels!". The Christian, true to his fundamental beliefs turns the other cheek. So the Atheist seeing the other two are busy grabs the parachute and jumps out shouting "Long live Evolution!"

11 February 2006

Scotland the Damp

You will also find more Scottish humour at http://scotland.21publish.com

05 February 2006

Scottish diet - The deep fried Mars bar

I am aware that some readers may believe the story that the scots invented and ate the deep fried mars bar is one of those urban myths like there being crocodles in the New York sewers. This is not true. The deep fried mars bar ( i think you americans and others would refer to hershy bars?) is a true scottish delicacy consumed by school children during cold scottish winter lunch breaks "at the chippy" and by scottish young men and women after the pub.

The craze for the deep fried mars bar was a brief one but they can still be purchased as a special order at the chip shop. The recipe for deep fried mars bar echoes the approach of traditional scottish cooking - good food with the minimum of preparation. Take one mars bar. Coat it with batter then deep fry in oil (preferably oil which has been used to fry fish and chips for a couple of months) drain then eat while the chocolate is still melted. Yum! I can hear you all droolin over your keyboards! While the craze for the deep fried mars bar may have passed the wide and wobbly waistlines of lovers of this and other scottish delicacies can still be seen in many a town and city.

Wee Bastard! - The Scottish Midge

No academic work on Scottish weather and culture would be complete without mention of the ubiquitous Scottish midge. South America has the pirhana. Africa has army ants. Scotland has the Midge. The Scottish midge is a flying insect so small as to be virtually undetectable except when it bites you to suck your blood. When the midge bites it feels like a sado-masochistic nurse has used a rusty hypodermic to take a blood sample. The midge is one of the perils of Scottish life.

Midges come in two distinct varieties. First the lone kamikaze. This type of midge has no respect for its own life. Its sole aim is to hone in on your exposed flesh, bite you as painfully as possible, suck your blood and then heroically give up its life under the slap of your palm. At these moments traditionally one utters a Scottish meditative mantra designed to help one cope with pain “ya fuckin wee basta” (English translation -take that you nasty little illegitimate fly). There is some debate in the scientific community ( see for example McSporran and McCracken 1997 “Wee Midgies n ither nasty bastards“) about whether they kamikaze midge is a distinct species. It has been noted for example that almost invariably an attack by a kamikaze is accompanied some minutes later by the second variety - The Scottish Sociable midge.

The Scottish Sociable Midge shares the instinctive socialist tendency that is inbred into the Scottish character. The Sociable Midge likes to hang around with its pals when its “oot on the toon”. Much like Scottish Man the midge may drink alone but by preference it prefers to be carousing with others. And just like Scottish Man it has a tendency to get a bit loud, boisterous and argumentative when its had a few. The attack of the sociable midge is a thing to be feared. Your standing there rubbing the guts of the last kamikaze from your hands when the first squadrons land in town. They pop in for a couple of drinks and then rush back to tell their pals where the action is at. Next thing while your still rubbing your face from the last jaggy bite the whole airforce arrives and your being carpet bombed by Commander Midgie Harris. Not good.

The midge is, fortunately , only generally “oot on the toon” when the weather is damp. Unfortunately this is 364 days out 365 in Scotland. (See previous Chapters). In future chapters we will discuss the connection between the midge and Scottish outdoor pursuits.