Happy Birthday Mister Burns and the birth of the Veggie Haggis

Jan 25 2012 | By More

On veggie haggis and smart-phone apps for Burns Night

By Thom Dibdin

I love Burns Night and the whole idea of a day that doesn’t just commemorate poetry, but celebrates the performance of poetry and its reading aloud in public.

There are plenty of things happening around town tonight, from the Brunton’s Rantin’, Rovin’, Robin’ from the Court of Equity to the Trav New Sessions with The Dark Jokes & The Litigators taking over the Traverse Bar from 8.30pm.

Of course there are all the organised Burns Night celebrations – the worst of which take it all far too seriously, but the best of which involve copious quantities of spouting off, plenty of haggis-orientated scran, all washed down with good claret, beer and whisky.

We’ve got the MacSween’s veggie haggis in, a copy of Burns ready to turn to – Ian Rankin’s selection contains a good cross section as well as his erudite introduction – and should that fail, both the new Burns Night app and the Robert Burns app, ready on the iPhone.

The Burns Night app from Saraband is great. A lot of work has gone into it, and it doesn’t just have the words, but an evocative rendition of Tam O’Shanter by Alasdair MacRae, as well as singers Karine Polwart, Corrina Hewat and Annie Grace with some of their acclaimed Burns arrangements.

A built-in compass points you to Robert Burns’s birthplace, allowing you to salute him when raising your glasses to his Immortal Memory. There’s an autocue version of Tam O’Shanter and an “all you ever wanted to know about Auld Lang Syne” feature – including some of its more esoteric translations such as Klingon.

It’s available free for both iPhone and android and the only downside – at least on the iPhone – is that the music cuts out when the phone goes dark so you’ll need to change your auto-lock settings under “settings, general”.

The Robert Burns app from Scotland.org is also free and also for both iPhone and android. It’s a bit more prosaic, with mainly just the words to over 550 poems (rather more than Saraband’s) but also contains a handy guide to the background.

What neither have is the truth of the origins of the veggie haggis.

Smithie's Ale House photo © Thom Dibdin

The veggie haggis was originally created for the launch of the new Scottish Poetry Library at a reading in Edinburgh’s St Cecilia’s Hall on 23 January 1984.

According to a letter in my possession from Angus Calder and Joy Hendry, at the time Convener and Depute Convener of the Poetry Library committee, they were charged with organising the social side of the event. The first items  on the menu were easily decided upon: Cullen Skink and authentic Forfar Bridies with Atholl Brose for sweet.

“But ohmagawd, so many poetry fanciers are vegetarians!!! What, within Scottish tradition could they be offered?”

Calder and Hendry convened to Smithie’s Ale House, on Eyre Place, to discuss such weighty matters. While Hendry claims in the letter that she came armed with the idea of a veggie haggis, “suggested by a nut roast latterly prepared by her then partner”, Calder insists that the idea arose spontaneously in discussion.

What ever, they decided on it, and someone phoned MacSween’s to request such a thing. Charles MacSween’s initial reaction was that such a thing was impossible.

A haggis, he stated at length, consisted of… (and he recited the horrendous list of ingredients). THAT, he said, is a haggis. However he consented to put a ‘skin’ round vegetarian ingredients, if the poetry library supplied them.

Two vegetarian concoctions were created – by Angus Calder’s daughter Rachel and Tessa Ransford’s daughter Meg – which were duly wrapped in skin and presented up at St Cecelia’s Hall to the “scores of people who braved an exceptionally fierce blizzard”.

With vegetarianism on the increase, Charles MacSween’s commercial imagination was fired. He retreated to his haggis laboratory and laboured for many weeks – and even months – to perfect his own vegetarian haggis.

As it went on the market, he presented the Poetry Library with a covenant for £350 over four years in gratitude for the idea.

MacSween’s website: www.macsween.co.uk

Saraband’s Burns Night app: www.saraband.net

Scotland.org’s Robert Burns app: www.scotland.org

Scottish Poetry Library’s website: www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/


Tags: , , , , ,

Comments (2)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. |Ann says:

    A really interesting and informative article

  2. Jacqueline Crothers says:

    Such a great article to share with the wandering Scots here in South Korea looking forward to kimchi with their veggie haggis !