Sharing Haggis With Robert Burns

In 2006, Neil and Morag Grassie family moved from Scotland to Westport. They lived there for a few years, eventually opting for more space and a wee bit of a rural lifestyle in Redding.

Soon after arriving in Westport, they started their own version of the long-established, worldwide tradition of celebrating Robert Burns’ birthday: January 25.

Robert Burns

“It was a great excuse to have a party during the post-holiday lull, when everyone is feeling a bit down,” Morag says.

Burns suppers range from a few men sitting around the fire reading poetry — “very boring,” Morag admits — to the other extreme: “full revelry and Scottish dancing.”

Most of the Grassies’ events include dancing, plus lively speeches and performances of poetry and song.

Burns suppers everywhere feature “the ceremonial piping in of the haggis” by a piper and bagpipes; the “Address to a Haggis” (a lively Burns poem about the virtues of haggis-eating), and of course, eating haggis.

Never had haggis? Here’s what you’re missing: a savory pudding of a sheep’s or calf’s offal, suet, oatmeal and seasoning, boiled in a bag.

Mmmmmm good!

The Grassies’ had a smae challenge when they first arrived in the States: it’s illegal to import haggis. (“The logic of this still defeats the intelligent mind,” Morag laments.)


After much sourcing and testing, they found a butcher in Maine who makes an authentic haggis under license from a butcher in Glasgow — the Grassies’ home city.

There are 3 other producers in the US, Morag reports — in New Jersey, Florida and Texas — but “none are a patch in the beans meat haggis from Maine.” Whatever that means.

This was the 5th year for the Grassie Burns supper. Many friends attend, but only 3 have made it to every one. All are from Westport: David and Sherry Jonas, and Roy Marmelo.

Roy’s wife Maite missed one. Jonathan Ewert is another active Westport participant.

What 3 well-dressed Westporters wear to a Scottish dinner.

“The biggest challenge for Neil and me is clearing out the house so we can get all 44 people seated, with room for the piper to move around, and then serve the 5-course dinner,” Morag says.

She cooks it from scratch, with help from friends who “peel potatoes and turnips for the traditional haggis, neeps and tatties course.” Of course.

Contributors this year included Sherry Jonas, with Heather Lyons (a Westporter originally from Glasgow) and Jane Morrison (a Westporter from, of all places, England) preparing shortbread for dessert.

This year’s program promised — right there, between one course of haggis, neeps and tatties, and another of poached Scottish salmon, wild race and salad — “intercourse entertainment.”

I can’t believe I missed that!

Little bits of Burns poetry are interwoven throughout the night. “You’ll be surprised how many you know,” Morag says.

There are speeches about poems like “Immortal Memory” (it tells a little about his 13 children, many of whom were illegitimate and/or called Margaret). Guests also talk about his socializing and death at age 37 (the two are linked).

Poetry, bagpipes, dancing and haggis. It doesn’t get any better than that.

7 responses to “Sharing Haggis With Robert Burns

  1. Dan, it’s always a mystery, what we’re gonna hear from you each day, and it’s always a delight. Thanks for this change of pace feature. I actually think my husband has dined on haggis; he’s quipped about it enough over the years. Despite its questionable ingredients, I understand it’s quite the delicacy and a curiously delightful aspect of another wonderful culture that enriches our community. Thanks for the morning smile and insight into yet another facet of our fine little town. We never know what you’re gonna dish up for us and bring to the table, literarily-speaking…

  2. THANKS, Susan — my pleasure. I hope I didn’t ruin anyone’s breakfast this morning. It’s certainly the first time I’ve ever used the word “offal” in a story!

  3. The best way to eat haggis is with a generous serving of the single malt of you choice; drink a couple of servings of the single malt before consuming the haggis.

  4. Charlie Haberstroh

    I would say very generous servings. I need to check in with Gavin Anderson to see how he eats/washes down haggis.

  5. My father, Archibald McTavish Bruce, grew up in a bilingual (gaelic and english) fishing village on Loch Fyne. He used to recite Burns at the slightest provocation, or come to think if it with no provocation whatsoever. He once described haggis to me as “a sheep’s stomach filled with the rest of its innards and oats, and boiled”. I don’t think they use the actual stomach any more, but rather some more appealing substitute. One winter many years ago, he had somehow brought a haggis home from Scotland, and asked the chef at his curling club in Westchester County to cook it for the closing banquet of a bonspiel. The chef asked what was in it, and declined for fear of liability! Surely “the great chieftan o’ the puddin’ race” deserves more respect!

  6. Gwen Dwyer Lechnar

    Iain is right–authentic haggis is made in a sheep’s stomach lining, which may have something to do with the ban on importing it–??And it’s at well more than one such dinner that the whisky goes straight onto the haggis.Luckily, when I was made aware if all this, it was because my husband belonged to the St. Andrews Society in San Francisco CA—the lucky part is that their Burns suppers were stag.