“O thou grim, mischief-making chiel, / That gars the notes of discord squeel, / Till daft mankiud aft dance a reel / In gore a shoe-thick; — /Gie a’ the foes o’ Scotland’s weal / A towmond’s Tooth-ache!”
– Robbie Burns, “Address to the Tooth-Ache”
What makes Robbie Burns beloved in the same way Shakespeare is respected? Without writing an entire book, there’s his favour for the Scots language over English, his early abolitionism, his radical Scottish nationalism, his strident views on inequality, his sharp criticism of those in power, and the fact that he was happy to write highbrow verses like “Scots Wha Hae” alongside comic poems about tooth-aches. That’s what makes him Scotland’s favourite son, and it’s safe to say that when Mel Gibson is finally punished for his crimes, it’ll be Robbie Burns who steps through the pearly gates to administer the ass-whuppin’.
And that’s why we have a dinner in his honour.
Step One: Dress the Part
According to Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, a kilt is “a costume sometimes worn by Scotchmen in America and Americans in Scotland”, so have at it. And remember, not only should you wear nothing under your kilt, you should be willing to show everyone, because that’s the Scottish way.
What, you can’t be bare-legged in January? And the neighbours won’t shut up about indecent exposure? Well, you can always look the part with a football jersey or rugby sweater, but beware—if you’re inviting real Scots to your party, the wrong colours will mean a soccer riot in your living room. We have Crips and Bloods, but they have Celtics and Rangers.
Step Two: Acquire a Haggis
Heat, liver, and tongue, packed in a wee sheep’s stomach. With respect to Groundskeeper Willie, it tastes better than it sounds. After all, pretty much any sausage is filled with offal and other goodness, so you can’t very well turn up your nose at a haggis if you’re willing to eat a hot dog.
For your best bet, call up a specialty butcher. For something fancier, try our Innis & Gunn-inspired recipe. If you’re of a more traditional temperament, try Alton Brown’s recipe. And if you’re celebrating in America, you may have to smuggle your haggis over the border, because the people who gave the world spray-on cheese need to pretend there’s a culture with weirder food lurking out there.
Step Three: Heat Up Your Deep-Fryer
Not sold on haggis or just want an even bigger Scottish spread? Well, be prepared to abandon your diet for a day and buy peanut oil by the drum.
You’ll definitely have to make Scotland’s best contribution to cuisine, the Scotch egg. It’s basically a nearly-hardboiled egg, wrapped in sausage meat, dusted in magic (and breadcrumbs) and then deep fried. You can substitute panko if you’re low on magic.
In the ‘thankfully not deep-fried’ category, you’ll need neeps and tatties—that is, mashed turnip and mashed potato, the traditional accompaniment to haggis. And if you’re wondering about vegetables, the traditional Scottish preparation is to pile your greens on a roasting pan, broil them for about half and hour, and serve as a dark green hillock of mashed and burned chlorophyll.
Step Four: Recite Some Poetry
Before you eat, your most inebriated guest must recite the “Address to the Haggis”, because of course Robbie Burns wrote a poem to the great chieftain of the puddin’ race.
At some point in the dinner, the men must give a “toast to the lassies”, and the women give a “reply to the laddies”, during which Canadians should suspend their tendency to be easily offended and engage in gentle, ribald humour. For example, “Unfortunately it falls to me to lower the tone and talk about men.”
If poetry isn’t in the cards, you can always engage in Scotland’s other national pastime, complaining about England. As my grandmother always said, “The only good thing to ever come out of England was a road to Scotland.” She also said that sympathy could be found in the dictionary, somewhere between shit and syphilis. God, I miss that woman.
Step Five: Drink Whisky
If your Burns supper is one of those very mature events that won’t end with people sleeping on the couch, I suggest a whisky tasting. Pick six Scotches, one from each region, and try picking out notes from this handy taste wheel. Be sure to go from light to heavy—start with a Glenmorangie, and end with a Laphroaig.
If you’re not so interested in dainty tasting glasses and using silly words like palate (ahem), just skip to the Laphroaig. It’s winter, and winter demands something nutty, buttery, smoky, peaty, and with just a hint of iodine. I always buy a bottle at first snowfall and then lose about half of it to obnoxious whisky-based articles.
Wait, need more whisky suggestions? Check back on Monday morning; we’ll give you a list that’ll make a Scot blush.
And remember, the toast you’re using is sláinte, which is the Gaelic for ‘health’. So enjoy Burns Day in health—or, at least, return to health the morning after.