Burns Night: A night to immerse in Scottish culture and food

The  Staff Canteen

Scots are known for their rich culture and tradition and Burns Night is one of a multitude of festivals that define Scottish cultural heritage.

Celebrated on or around 25th January, its observance marks the birthday of the bard of Scotland, Robert Burns. Burns’ contribution to the enrichment of Scottish culture forms the essence of this celebration.


What are the Burns night traditions?

Handing down traditions has been a major trait of Scots and this is how the traditional Scottish symbols, clothing, music, and even some of its festivals have become widely recognised and observed. Burns’ supper was first organised by his acquaintances on July 21st, the anniversary of his death, in Ayrshire, Scotland, in the late 1700s.

Later this date was changed to his birthday, but remained largely confined to Scotland and Ireland. Now its popularity has spread across United Kingdom and is being celebrated on a grand scale by Scottish origins around the world.

Willie Pike MBE, executive chef and head of craft training, Costley and Costley Hoteliers, said: “Scots celebrate the Burns Night with burns supper all over the world, incorporating the reading of Burns’ famous poems such as Address to the haggis, Reply to the lassies etc., and also lots of the stories with a modern twist with what happening today but in a Burns format.”

Traditional food, drinks, poetry, stories, music and these days even highland dancing make the celebrations vibrant and truly Scottish.

What food is eaten on burns night?

Willie said: “Depending on the budget, the Burns supper can be a simple scotch broth or cock-a- leekie soup followed by the traditional haggis neeps and tatties and cranachan as a dessert - whipped cream with honey, toasted oatmeal and raspberries piped into a glass.”The lavish formal or informal gathering on Burn’s night starts with a welcome address by the host before meals, followed by the piping in of haggis. Burns’ supper also honours the national dish of Scotland, haggis, on which Robert Burns had written his famous ode, “Address to a Haggis”.

However, address to the haggis and toast to the haggis (made of pluck wrapped in pig’s stomach) form the centre of attraction of every event and so utmost care is taken to make this a success. Willie added: “No matter the type of dinner there is always an address to the haggis which entails the chef carrying out a chieftain haggis (whole) on a platter into the room where one of the guests will address the haggis with the traditional poem before dramatically stabbing and cutting into the haggis. The guest and the chef then toast the haggis with a shot of whisky.”

willie pike
Willie Pike

What is haggis?

As popularly said, this dish is not for the faint-hearted, but a try will definitely leave you craving for more. And modern chefs like Willi are being very innovative with Scottish ingredients and the presentation of the haggis dish. Willie said: “Haggis is very appealing as it tastes great, but as a chef you are challenged to be innovative and combine the haggis with various other complimentary flavours and textures.

“I remember cooking a creamy neep soup topped with a light potato cream in a demi tasse cup with haggis pithivier on the side.”

With all the innovations on one side, Willie said: “The classic timbale of haggis, neeps and tatties with peppercorn sauce is still brilliant, and the classic sweet neeps with the peppery spiced haggis and the creamy rich mashed potato plus the sauce is just fantastic.”

The popularity of Scotland’s age old dish haggis, Scottish chefs like Willie believe has increased with time.

He said: “Haggis is becoming even more popular as it is very tasty, not over expensive and both the consumer on the high street is buying more especially on a budget as it is very nutritious.”

So much so that he remembered having had to take off his famous haggis tempura from his bar menu as his assistants could not cope with the demand. If you thought Burns’ supper is all about the haggis then you might be wrong as besides cock-a-leekie, neeps, haggis and tatties, a full dessert course is also one to be looked forward to.

Willie, famed for his sugar crafting and desserts, said: “I like to have a bit of fun with desserts and like to come up with various ways to re- invent cranachan!!! People love nessie (The loch ness monster) and other dishes like Flavors of Clootie dumpling, an old traditional dumpling which is boiled in cloth or pillow case till cooked and warmed at the fire to produce a fabby skin.”

“Other dishes include apple crumble parfait with Clootie dumpling soufflé and elderflower sorbet.”


One of Burns’ greatest poems- My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose

For the upcoming Burns’ night event, he plans to pay to tribute to one of Burns’ greatest poems- My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose - by preparing his new apple and elderflower sorbet refresher course for the Burns’ supper. The sorbet, he said, will be piped into a sugar-crafted rose at service time.
The sumptuous meal at a Burns’ supper is usually followed by a short speech by a guest remembering Burns’ life or his poetry. He or some other guest may also read Burns’ poetries to make the atmosphere more lively and entertaining.

The evening comes to an end with a vote of thanks by the host, after which the whole gathering joins in to sing Burns’ best known work, “Auld Lang Syne”. Nowadays highland dancers are also brought in to perform in the end, making the guests tap to the Gaelic music. Some prefer to grace the occasion wearing traditional kilts made of tartan and music of bagpipes or melody of Burns’ songs fill the air. However, there is no hard and fast rule as to the sequence and number of steps that a host needs to arrange.

To make the night much more fun and interactive, quizzes, recitation competitions and treasure hunts can also be organised. Some learned or experienced ones can be made to share their thoughts or reveal some unknown aspects of Burns’ life or poetry.

It’s a night to experience Scottish food, music and culture and where sticking to rules might spoil the festive joy. So get ready for the upcoming Burns’ night and take the time to appreciate the country’s age-old traditions and culinary delights.

By Samiksha Pattanaik

Will you be celebrating this Scottish tradition? How do you like you haggis? Let us know in the comments or over on @canteentweets

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 24th January 2018

Burns Night: A night to immerse in Scottish culture and food