Yesterday was my day off and glorious weather indeed and Trixie and I circumnavigated Van Nuys by foot and paw until we ended up at MacLeod sharing a pint with Andrew as the sun went down. I was heading out the door when Alastair approached:
Would I care to judge the Haggis bake-off at the Burns Supper in a few hours time?
Why, Haggis! The wild game of Scotland? Of course I would. I pictured something porcine and cuddly, gamboling about in the Highland grasses toward the hunter’s snare, one leg shorter than the other, to accommodate the slopes. Fatty, yet savory.
I could say it is a testimony to my affection for MacLeod Ale and for Alastair that I returned to the tavern. But the truth is the sheer grossness of sheeps pluck, cooked in an animal stomach lining, (or as they say in the British Isles, pudding) held a primal, forbidden appeal. The gastronomical equivalent of jumping off a railroad trestle at night into an icy river. It was a call to manhood. If men in skirts can do it, who am I to be a pussy?
So, girding my intestinal tract with a bit o’ Nutty Broon, I screwed my courage to the sticking place, and awaited the bagpipes under the blue and white bars of Scotland. Alastair piped his way to the table, at which point the evening belonged to the Bard of Ayrshire:
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak yer place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my airm.
And onward for eight glorious stanzas. Then, with no verse remaining to spare us our duty, we, the judges, approached the four Haggi.
Haggis is….hard to describe. People will misdirect you with claims of ‘spicy oatmeal’. They’re lying. It’s a time machine, to a world centuries past when white men hunted with spears. To eat sheep organs is to squat by a campfire in the rain and smell the funk of sizzling gristle slowly overtaking the funk of one’s unwashed asscrack, and think: Aye, tis a blessing not to starve. Better this than the turnips again. To hell with Edward the Longshanks! You can try to repurpose it for modern tastes as a tamale or a soufflé but in the end there is no way to disguise the primitive nature of the transaction. You are an animal, by necessity eating the entrails of a lesser animal. You are halfway on the evolutionary journey from the thatch hut to the airplane and it’s an open question whether you will survive to tell your grandchildren the tale.
The Haggi at MacLeod proved creative, prolific and in the end…surprisingly tasty. A little peaty Scotch helps. All the tickling of the primal impulses: the pipes, the grog, the slaughtered sheep, put me in an amorous frame of mind.
Arriving home, I addressed my bonnie lassie, Mrs. U, who ducked under the covers and was blunt:
“Kiss me not, with ye haggis mouth.”
“But mah lassie, I bring ye the drunken murmurings of Rabbie Burns upon me very lips”
“Kiss me NOT.”
“The very lips which proclaimed ye fair luv evrlastin”
And like a snake, she coiled out of reach.
It was worth it.