Haggis it’s OK.

30 01 2013

Now, despite my proud ownership of a blue Canadian passport, it can’t be denied that I was born in England. Yorkshire to be exact (as Yorkshiremen often are in such emotive matters of origin). I went to university slightly further North, in Durham. Slightly further North still (at least in galactic terms) lies Scotland, or Écosse as the more trendy Jacobeans would have it. The recent Burns Night celebrations reminded me of my collage days back in the early ’80s. The local Woolworth’s in Durham used to sell fresh (I use the term loosely)  haggis.

Being at a collegiate university, there was no need to cook or otherwise fend for myself during my undergraduate years. This was a major godsend (or Darwinsend, I suppose) to the hapless teenager I was then. I later matured and developed into a full-grown hapless adult, but that’s another story. In any case I remember acquiring at least one haggis (hey – it was 30 years ago – memories fade! I couldn’t swear to the exact number)  and cooking it.

Wikipedia: Durham Cathedral and Mill-house

Now, if you’ve never “partaken” of haggis, you’re missing out on one of life’s great experiences. Great as in large. It’s a personal decision whether it’s also great as in good. Memorable either way. Suffice it to say at this juncture that boiling up a haggis is a somewhat, er, pungent affair. Popularity was never one of my goals at university, and haggis-cooking pretty well excluded popularity from the horizon for a while.

Fast forward to a few days ago, and a cheeky exchange I had at work with a Scottish colleague. He proudly flies a St. Andrew’s cross on his desk, and I engaged in light-hearted nationalistic jest. I asked if he’d received a discount for said flag, as most of the white, and all of the red was missing. We both shared a laugh, but had to explain to the blank-faced “proper” Canadians about the various component flags making up the Union Jack. Anyway, conversation came around to wee Rabbie, and the Scots capability of making up a drinking excuse out of pretty much anything. From there, I lamented my failure to find haggis in the 12 years I’ve lived in Canada. I did however have to qualify that by admitting that I hadn’t actually, in all honesty, looked!

Wikipedia: Flag of St. andrew

Wikipedia: Union Jack

So tonight (there is a point to all this – stick with me…) Mrs E told me she’d bought me a present. Now this in itself is a massive event, so I rushed home with my mind’s eye full of Lamborghinis and holiday cottages. On arrival, I was told it was in the fridge. Strange place to keep a sports car, but hey ho. I gave up looking in the end, having incorrectly guessed that several bags of frozen blueberries and a loaf of unsliced bread were the goal.

No – there, hiding timorously  in the bottom tray, unassuming and shy was… a haggis! Frozen obviously, but a haggis nonetheless. The brand is Goodricks from New Westminster, BC. Purveyors, the label assures me, of quality meat products since 1987.

38846_143416432354535_3753815_n(Not sure how good their meat was before 1987, but that’s not the point here really, is it?) The ingredients list on my new haggis is short and to the point. In this day and age that in itself is a rare thing not to be undervalued.

The haggis itself does seem to be in a traditional sheep’s stomach, though it’s hard to tell through the frost-coated plastic. Nice to know there’s still a role for traditional sheep. Modern sheep with their piercings and tattoos remind me of a great New Zealand comedy-horror. But enough frivolity. The ingredients, I am assured in writing, consist only of the following:

  • Lamb Pluck
  • Oats
  • Spices
  • Onions
  • Stock

“Spices” of course can hide a multitude of sins, but otherwise pretty innocuous. Hang on though… “lamb pluck”? What in the name of Jamie Oliver is lamb pluck when it’s at home? It sounds like belly button fluff.

Enter my good friend Google…

Lamb Pluck, it would seem, is esophagus, lungs, heart, liver, kidneys… all still connected.

Lamb Pluck

egullet: Lamb Pluck

Well I guess that’s OK then. I thought it might have been something unsavory for a moment. What can I say? Well – “waste not, want not” springs to mind. I guess it depends on your upbringing. I frequently ate and loved the taste of lambs kidneys and liver too as a kid. I think I’d have drawn the line at lungs or heart – even in onion gravy – though on my trip to Brazil, I enjoyed many chicken hearts from the grill. (They’re like almonds – you can’t just have one. You need at least a handful.) I have also eaten “duck entrails soup” in a newspaper press-hall in China which I guess has pretty much the same ingredients… just with a dash of soya sauce.

Anyway, the haggis is defrosting in the fridge, and no doubt there will be complaints from the neighbours once I start to cook it. That’s OK – I’ll offer them a slice. Then tell them what’s in it.

I can be like that sometimes…

Degrees of Separation

17 12 2011

So it’s well accepted – at least in the chattering classes – that we all have at least some bigotry lurking in our psyche. The more thoughtful of us will regretfully admit it (though occasionally only after having it pointed out by a trusted friend or colleague), the rest (being bigoted) will simply blame others.

Being a child of the ’60s.. 1960’s, just to remove any ambiguity there… I have no less bigotry than most, more than some, and less than a few. I was brought up in the UK with an unquestioning assumption that the United Kingdom had been always thus (united). The violent political unrest of the early 70’s gave me an uncomplimentary opinion of Ireland I am ashamed to say, and regret never having visited its reportedly lovely shores prior to moving over the pond. Wales was where people went to have their holiday cottages mysteriously burned down (See Ethnic cleansing the Welsh way – The Independent), and Scotland was where men wore skirts and ate dodgy food out of sheep stomachs (which in fairness is actually quite tasty – the food not the hairy men in skirts.) Thankfully as I grew older and relied less on assumptions and “truths” passed down by family and society, I began to seek out and acquire my own versions of the truth. I’d like to think I’ve become more questioning and less assumptive. It’s a work in progress. I intend to never quite finish.

I’m always interested in how one comes by new information – all part of the building blocks of ones reality. Information is really just the current opinion of course. As you acquire differing views and opinions one is forced to reevaluate the previous “truth”.

All this preamble just to say that I recently learned something! I was writing a previous post about Dame Margot Fonteyn, and discovered she lived and eventually died in Panama. Interesting enough, but then I learned she had a peripheral role in an attempted coup there in 1964. In an attempt to learn more about THAT, I discovered that in the 1690’s Scotland had a colony in Panama. Huh – imagine that! The Darién scheme was a complete financial disaster, not least because something like 25% of the entire Scottish available currency was tied up in the scheme.

Wikipedia: New Caledonia

Wikipedia: The Bay of Caledonia, west of the Gulf of Darien

At the demise of the scheme, the hitherto independent kingdom of Scotland succumbed to the  Act of Union in 1707. So it wasn’t through the might of the English redcoats… it was more due to an unsuccessful financial gamble. Obviously the real history of the uniting of the kingdom of the UK is much more rich and a veritable tapestry of different threads – but this part at least was utterly unknown to me prior to this morning.

Long live the internet! Long live learning!!