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Burns Suppers Celebrate Scotland's Favorite Poet & Haggis
By Judith Lerner, Special to iBerkshires
02:18AM / Friday, January 22, 2016
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Piping in the haggis at The Rhinecliff(N.Y.) hotel and restaurant. The restaurant will be holding its Burns Supper next week.

Monday, Jan. 25, will be the Scottish poet Robert Burns' 257th birthday.

The poet and lyricist, collector of folk songs, farmer and liver-of-life-to-the-fullest, was so beloved that, only a few years after his early death at the age of 37, friends began the tradition of celebrating his birthday with merriment, music, feasting, dancing and drinking which persists into the present.

Scots and fans of the poet all over the world still celebrate his birthday with bagpipes, readings, singing, feasting and drinking — eating haggis and other, more elegant fare; drinking stout, ale, beer and scotch. Burns Night Suppers now happen all over the globe, pretty much in the same manner whether in Scotland, Oregon, Japan, India or, as in 2011, 19,000 feet up as a fundraiser on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

If you're not Scottish or you haven't been following Robert Burns, what, you may be asking, is haggis? And, why is haggis part of this birthday?

Haggis is a soft, meatloaf/paté/pudding-like mixture of sheep kidney, liver, heart, unpopular cuts and, outside of the United States, lung, bound with oatmeal and suet, flavored with savories like onion and herbs. Haggis was originally encased in the sheep's stomach but now is often stuffed into plastic casing as is common with today's cold cuts.

It is an ancient food, made famous by Burns' "Address to a Haggis" which is read at Burns birthday celebrations and why it is then served.

It may not sound it but haggis is delicious. Think what goes into a breakfast sausage or kielbasa or your favorite meatloaf or paté. Wikipedia has a nice little entry on haggis. With photos.

Burns Suppers are about a lot more than just eating. There is a protocol to follow and lots of piping [bagpipes], singing and reading and declaiming of Burns poems and songs.

Guests are welcomed, "The Selkirk Grace" is said and then the haggis is presented.

The haggis itself is carried into the dining hall with fanfare, to the strains of bagpipes. It is then is honored with the reading of Burns' "Address to a Haggis," cut open and served all around.

In Scotland, some celebrations include drumming and Scottish dancing. Some serve bridies/meat pies and peas. Some are formal with cocktails and canapés.

In New England, Burns Night is celebrated from Hyannis to Boston to Springfield to Deerfield, Providence, R.I., Enfield, Conn., and Albany, N.Y.

There's a dinner in Brooklyn and a whole weekend of events around Robbie Burns and Scottish food and drink and music out near the Finger Lakes in Cazenovia, N.Y.

So, where can you go to find haggis and neaps/turnips and tatties/potatoes and people declaiming to them around here this weekend?

Not very far away, as it turns out.

In Chatham, N.Y., and in the Pioneer Valley and Springfield area, some Burns Night events will take place this weekend. One already happened last weekend.

The most constant celebration of Robert Burns takes place every year at Peint O Gwrw (518-392-2337), a Welsh pub at 36 Main St. in the middle of Chatham. No reservations are needed. Just show up.

This Friday, Jan. 22, will be the 14th year chef, bartender and owner Tom Hope will be presenting the haggis.

"At 6 sharp. I'm very punctual," Hope said.

His friend, piper Neil Roberts, will pipe the haggis in, from the back of the pub to the front, take a sgian-dubh, (Hope pronounced it skin-tuh) — a small Scottish knife worn stuck into the sock with the decorative hilt showing when wearing traditional Scottish dress, a kilt — and stab the beastie/the haggis then recite the Burns' "Address to a Haggis."

"We'll all be wearing kilts," Hope told me.

He also explained that Hope and Roberts are both Scottish names.

"My grandfather was Scottish from just over the line in Yorkshire. That's where the Hope clan castle is."

His family has a castle in Scotland! But Hope is too busy with Peint O Gwrw for the last 15 years to visit anymore.

"I ordered the haggis up from Stewarts Scottish Market in Kearny, N.J. A true Scottish deli. They only do Scottish food," he said.

"And I'll be making the vegan haggis. I love making it. Maybe I should call it a vegetarian haggis. It has butter."

"I make it with two kinds of oatmeal, mushrooms, carrots, onions, two kinds of nuts, two kinds of kidney beans, Marmite and lots of rosemary — and I do it in a non-meat casing," he said.

"I'll also be doing neaps and tatties which is potatoes and rutabaga," he added.

"And there'll be Scotch. We'll pass it around in a flagon."

Then, he said, they'll serve dinner, for which he does not charge. He knows he will make the night's money on drinks.

Hope said he is trying to get a firkin, a nine-gallon quarter barrel of stout to place on the bar for the night.

"But they are difficult to come by. They spray all over when you drive in the tap and they are best the first night you open them," he said.

A mess, a production, but a tradition he looks forward to.

At 8, Side Show Willie, a rock 'n' roll band, will begin to perform so best arrive at Peint O Gwrw before 6 if your focus is Robert Burns and haggis.

On Saturday, Jan. 23 at 5 p.m., there will be a Burns Night Supper at Champney's Restaurant & Tavern at the Deerfield Inn. The Inn said they will have "a night of pipes, scotch, kilts, poetry and song — and a slice of authentic haggis."

The inn said the menu for the Burns Night supper is always the same.

The table is set for last year's Burns Supper at Blantyre in Lenox. The Blantyre celebrates every other year, so get your reservations for 2017.

They start with a platter of crudités and their own very dense brown bread. The cock-a-leekie soup, a rich chicken soup and a glass of whiskey. Then haggis and clapshot, a mash of potatoes, rutabaga and carrots, followed by a tossed winter vegetable salad.

Diners then have a choice of salmon or venison, lamb and beef fricasee, both traditional Scottish dishes.

Next there will be oat cakes with cheddar cheese and, for dessert, Scotch chocolate mousse -- laced with Scotch.

The first glass of whiskey is part of the dinner. Further drinks are available for sale.

"We do have an amazing collection of Scotches,' they said.

The cost is $65 including tax and gratuity. Tickets may be ordered from Brown Paper Tickets, with a $3.27 service fee. Call the inn's reservation line, 413 772-3087, with any questions and to reserve a table for your clan.

Also, this Saturday night, Jan. 23, The Colony Club, 1500 Main Street, Springfield, 413-732-4101,,

At 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 29, The Rhinecliff, a hotel and restaurant at 4 Grinnell St. beside the Amtrak train station in Rhinecliff, N.Y., will be hosting a 3-course Scottish dinner by reservation. The menu will be cock-a-leekie soup, Highland beef stew with neeps and tatties and lemon curd shortbread for dessert.

The evening will be complete with bagpipes, storytelling and Neil Roberts in tartan kilt with sgian-dubh leading in the haggis, an ale and whiskey tasting — and more — for $39.95 or $29.95 at the bar, plus tax and 20 percent gratuity. Call 845-876 0590 for reservations.

You can go to Dorset, Vt., for a Burns birthday party at The Dorset Inn on the Green, 8 Church St. and Route 3, next Thursday, Jan. 28. Go just for the 5-course Scotch pairing with a Scottish-themed dinner, $65 with alcohol, $45 without alcohol, plus tax and gratuity; or do an overnight stay for two with breakfast for $275, .

The paired dinner includes 10-, 12- and 15-year whiskys, a Scottish ale and Drambuie, a spiced, herbed and honey-sweetened aged Scotch, with dessert and house smoked trout roe, Scotch quail eggs and fennel salad, house smoked goose, the haggis and a Drambuie fruitcake with Scotch ice cream.

Call 802-867-5500 for reservations and more information.

There will be a Burns Dinner at Celtic Hall, 430 Karner Road in Albany, N.Y., on Saturday, Jan. 30, starting at 5:30 p.m. Cost is $40 per person or $350 for a table of 10 before Jan. 22. Call 518-250-5890 for reservations and information.

As far as I can find out, there are no Burns Night celebrations here in the Berkshires although there were a couple of lovely ones at Blantyre in Lenox and Perigee Restaurant in South Lee a few years ago.

Since then, Blantyre celebrates Burns Night every other year, innkeeper Christopher Brooks told me. Last year it was very nice, he said.

"We had the bagpipes and all the traditional things," Brooks said. "We are planning to host Burns Night next year at Blantyre."

You can mark it on your calendar for 2017.

And be sure to wear your kilt. In 2011, those who wore a kilt got a 25 percent discount on the price of the evening. A proper Scots idea.

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