You often see it said that the downfall of many a Vegetarian is bacon and that some think wistfully of its savoury goodness, even if they don’t give in. This was not so with Mr L; vegetarian when first he came to live with me, his great losses in life were Pork Pies and Haggis – both of which he soon asked if I could emulate in a veggie version.
Being extremely fond of a good haggis myself (such happy memories of Summer Schools at Stirling and Haggis twice a week), I was happy to take this direction.
I found a Vegetarian Haggis recipe on Usenet and this I used for several years. It was tasty and satisfying and we both ate it happily. As I recall it had all that makes a Haggis a Haggis, apart from the sheepy components. By which I mean it had oatmeal and pearl barley included, lots of pepper but no silly nuts or beans. Really, what place would a Red Kidney Bean have inside a Haggis?
How I wish that Felicity Cloake and her “How to cook the perfect” column in the Guardian had been around then! I would have given her version a go in my own taste trials, no problem.
Fast forward to Orkney and the decision to eat meat once again. We tried a haggis from a local butcher and waited in great anticipation whilst it cooked. We sat down to eat and we found ourselves disappointed. The Orcadian Haggis is a different breed! Like the Orcadian Black pudding, it has a drier, mealier texture than its counterpart elsewhere (though this is admittedly true of many Scots black puddings, not just in Orkney).
As a side note – the Orcadian Black Pudding is a tasty beast. The seasoning is wonderful but the pudding is so very dry and crumbly and… comes in a plastic skin. It’s a large cylindrical sausage-shaped thing that is sold in slices. Now, correct me if I am wrong, but a Black Pudding should be a link sausage, firm in texture and encased in a proper skin that goes wonderfully crispy in the frying pan. I was horrified the first time that I made the mistake of frying black pudding that was not in a proper skin: plastic melts…
Way doon Sooth, in Yorkshire (where I was dragged up), the Black Puddings are wonderfully moist with fat – they include diced pig fat. When you fry them the fat goes brown and crispy. Oh they are a most marvellous thing. Firm, not at all crumbly and the skins shrivel and curl back and go crispy. Fabulous for breakfast with a dollop of Dad’s home-made Piccalilli.
But I digress.
Back to that Chieftain o’ the puddin’ race…
Having tried the Orkney Haggis, we reverted to Macsween’s, normally provided by Tesco, and have happily boiled up our haggis in a peedie sheep’s stomach for years now. Alas, Macsweens have gone plastic!
Happily in researching for this post, I find that Macsweens do still make a Traditional Haggis (presumably my Tesco would have had some in this week) – and oh, my, some extremely interesting and decidedly non-traditional tweaks on both the humble haggis and the black pudding.
Well, I failed to get to town and so we had to buy whatever we could get on the island and that was a local butcher’s Haggis. It looked like the real deal in shape and size but when we got it home it transpired that the stomach was missing. It’s a Plaggy Haggi. Not a good start.
The question remains however – will it be dry?
Well, there’s waan way o’ dealin’ wi’ thaat: introduce a peedie dram!
However one takes one’s dram wi’ the wee beastie, let us agree that one should and must be taken! We favour a drop of whisky cream sauce with our Haggis and I have the ingredients to hand.
When all is said and done: stomach or noo; dram or noo; pearl barley or noo; dry or moist; traditional or modern… there must be clapshot!
Never were the humble tattie and neep more important.
Happy Birthday, Rab.
Addendum: I have just discovered Macsween’s mail order service haggisuk.co.uk – and they will deliver to Highlands & Islands, using Royal Mail !!! Items can be frozen on delivery for up to 6 months. I feel an order coming on.
Delivery to Highlands & Islands, Northern Ireland and Channel Islands for orders below 10kg is by Royal Mail Tracked Service, costs the same as Mainland UK and takes an extra day (approx). Shipments over 10kg incur a surcharge which is calculated in the shopping cart.
(The emphasis is mine)