A Burns Night Supper of vegan haggis with sides of neeps and tatties made every Rabbie around our table smile — in a reserved, Scottish sort of way.
ON A REMOTE LITTLE ISLAND IN JANUARY, you just have to make your own fun.
After weeks of winter winds, snow and rain, the timing was right for a party. January 25 is the birthday of the renowned Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796), and all over the world, followers of “Rabbie” and everything Caledonian celebrate with Burns Night Suppers, toasting the author of such cultural standards as “Auld Lang Syne” and other poetic pearls.
We hosted a Burns Supper on Saturday. It was fitting, since before Barbara took the name Cantwell she was (and, of course, remains) a Burns. Grandpa Burns hailed from Nova Scotia, and the family genealogy says he was, indeed, a shirttail relative of the Scottish bard.
Our neighbors, John the Mad Birder, who earned his doctorate from a Scottish university, and his charming first wife, Carol, joined us. Complete with Rabbie masks for all, it was an evening of sipping good single-malt from Speyside, listening to bagpipe music on the stereo, the Mad Birder’s richly rendered readings of modern Scottish poetry, and even a recitation by Rabbie himself of his delightful poem, “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785,” said to have been written after Burns was plowing a field and accidentally destroyed a mouse’s nest, which it needed to survive the winter.
It was the poem that inspired a John Steinbeck novella, among other things, with the passage, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” (Agley is an old Scottish word meaning, basically, fucked up.)
Oh, you may wonder how Rabbie recited it for us on Saturday. To shorten a long story: When he died, in his late 30s, a plaster cast was made of his skull. A couple years ago, universities in England and Scotland joined forces to use the skull as a basis for creating a motion-capture 3D animation of Burns, as he actually appeared before his death, reciting the poem, using the voice of modern-day Ayrshire poet, and Burns enthusiast, Rab Wilson. It’s brilliant, with all the proper Scottish burr and pronunciations. (“Mousie” becomes, deliciously, “Moosie.”)
And, of course, it’s on YouTube, so we watched it on our 40-inch flat-screen.
We then recited the proper Selkirk grace before the ritual stabbing and devouring of the haggis, which Barbara made with a vegan recipe featuring a filling of lentils, oatmeal, grated carrot, mushrooms and shallots traditionally seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, sage, thyme and rosemary — all wrapped in savoy cabbage leaves rather than a sheep’s stomach. (We were truly thankful.) Sides included neeps and tatties (turnip and potatoes) with whiskey gravy. Dessert was a trifle with layers of custard, angel food cake, coconut cream, peaches and fresh raspberries.
Na ane coud eat na more, a well-fed Scot might have said in 1785.