Haggis is a savoury pudding.
Extremely well known, it is perhaps the one food which most represents Scotland.
It is composed of the liver, heart, and lungs of a sheep, minced and mixed with beef or mutton suet and oatmeal and seasoned with onion, cayenne pepper, and other spices. The mixture is packed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled.
According to the 2001 English edition of the Larousse Gastronomique: “Although its description is not immediately appealing, haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour”.
Haggis is popularly assumed to be of Scottish origin, but many countries have produced similar dishes, albeit with different names. However, the recipes as known and standardised now are distinctly Scottish.
The haggis is an example of human ingenuity in using every part of an animal for food, in a way that preserves the meat without spoiling for later consumption and in a manner that allows transportation.
A kind of primitive haggis is referred to in Homer’s Odyssey, in book 20, when Odysseus is compared to “a man before a great blazing fire turning swiftly this way and that a stomach full of fat and blood, very eager to have it roasted quickly.”
The whole first documented reference of a sausage resembling Haggis originates from Aristophanes, an early Greek dramatist, who died in 423 BC once he talks about one of them exploding.
The first known written recipes for a dish of the name, made with offal and herbs, are as “hagese”, in the verse cookbook Liber Cure Cocorum dating from around 1430 in Lancashire, north west England, and, as “hagws of a schepe” from an English cookbook also of c. 1430.
An early printed recipe for haggis appears in 1615 in The English Huswife by Gervase Markham.
In the absence of hard facts as to haggis’ origins, popular folklore has provided some notions. One is that the dish originates from the days of the old Scottish cattle drovers. When the men left the Highlands to drive their cattle to market in Edinburgh, the women would prepare rations for them to eat during the long journey down through the glens. They used the ingredients that were most readily available in their homes and conveniently packaged them in a sheep’s stomach allowing for easy transportation during the journey. Other speculations have been based on Scottish slaughtering practices. When a chieftain or laird required an animal to be slaughtered for meat (whether sheep or cattle) the workmen were allowed to keep the offal as their share.
A joke sometimes maintained is that a haggis is a small Scottish animal with longer legs on one side, so that it can run around the steep hills of the Scottish highlands without falling over. According to one poll, 33 percent of American visitors to Scotland believed haggis to be an animal.
Haggis is inexpensive, savory, and nourishing. In Scotland it formerly was considered a rustic dish and was so celebrated in Robert Burns’s lines “To a Haggis” (1786), but in the 21st century haggis is served with some ceremony, even bagpipes, particularly on Burns Night (held annually on January 25, Burns’s birthday) and Hogmanay, as the Scots call their New Year’s celebrations.
Haggis is usually accompanied by turnips (called “swedes” or “neeps”) and mashed potatoes (“tatties”) – Scotch whisky is the customary drink.
The largest haggis weighed 1,010 kg (2,226 lb 10 oz) and was made by Hall’s of Scotland (UK) at Fenton Barns, North Berwick, UK, on 18 June 2014. The haggis measured 2.8 m (9 ft 2 in) in length, 0.93 m (3 ft) in width and 0.65 m (2 ft 1 in) in height.
Lorne Coltart (UK), from Blair Atholl, Perthshire, Scotland, threw a haggis 66 m (217 ft) at the Bearsden and Milngavie Highland Games, Glasgow, Scotland, on 11 June 2011. His throw smashed the previous record held for more than 20 years by Alan Pettigrew.
The Scottish poem “Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy”, which is dated before 1520 (the generally accepted date prior to the death of William Dunbar, one of the composers), refers to “haggeis”.
Thy fowll front had, and he that Bartilmo flaid –
The gallowis gaipis eftir thy graceles gruntill,
As thow wald for ane haggeis, hungry gled.
— William Dunbar, Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy