Monday, 25 January 2010

Haggis, Whisky and Poetry .. means only one thing "Robbie Burns"

Robert Burns’ birthday is remembered today, 25 January, with a celebratory Burns Night supper – they were originally held on the anniversary of his death in July, but now the traditional suppers occur on or around the 25th .. I might just scrape into the 25th, but I’m not celebrating, though we used to in South Africa – and I can tell you a heavy Burns Night meal is not the best thing for a hot January evening south of the equator.

Mind you here on a cold January day in England a supper of Scotch Broth, Haggis, Neeps and Tatties (above), and Cranachan (or a Tipsy Tart) sounds quite good to me. I have just celebrated his birthday with a piece of Scottish Shortbread and some tea!

Scotch broth, that quintessential soup from north of the border, traditionally made with barley, meat and vegetables, gives a full and hearty broth. Now haggis – that is another matter – an offal dish, with the ingredients minced up with onion, oatmeal, suet, and flavourings producing a sausage style dish.

The cranachan dessert also made from the ubiquitous oatmeal, raspberries, malt whisky, runny Scottish honey and double cream – sounds wonderful. Then to finish off - some cheese and biscuits, a decent coffee and another glass of whisky to settle the meal: sounds good to me (sans the whisky).

Cranachan – taken from Scottish Recipes
The Glen Garioch whisky featured here, is because I liked the colour .. not because I like whisky – I don’t; however the distillery is one of the oldest in Scotland dating back to1797. The location chosen in Aberdeenshire was in the celebrated ‘Valley of the Garioch’ (The Granary of Aberdeenshire) famous for producing the finest barley in all of Scotland, an indispensible ingredient in the making of whisky. The distillery has been through difficult times, but now incongruently is owned by a Japanese company!

As time unfolds and descriptions get attached to people they give us something of their background, and this is so true of Burns (he is also known as Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s favourite son, the Ploughman Poet, the Bard of Ayrshire and in Scotland as simply The Bard). So from these depictions we can deduce he is a poet and lyricist, a man of the soil, where he grew up and the fact that he is Scottish and cannot be claimed by another nation.

He had a tough life, as a self-educated farmer’s son, who schooled his own children in reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and history, and also wrote for them “A Manual of Christian Belief”. In due time he would be grateful for his father’s education as Burns at one point trained and became a tax collector (an exciseman), which is probably not that well known.

His casual love affairs did not endear him to the elders of the local kirk and created for him a reputation for dissoluteness amongst his neighbours, which certainly would not have helped in promoting his writings. Burns was incredibly short of cash, or credit, and was encouraged to publish his works to fund his proposed passage to the West Indies. The success of this publication was immediate, and soon he was known across the country.

His reputation made, he was able to move to Edinburgh and became an accepted member of Society and it was during this time that he collaborated with James Johnson, a struggling music engraver and music seller with a love of old Scots songs and a determination to preserve them. Burns shared this interest and became an enthusiastic contributor.
The best-known portrait of Burns (1759 - 1796)

So Burns as well as writing magnificent romantic poetry, also made original compositions, collected folk songs from across Scotland and wrote in English as well as a “light” Scots dialect that was soft on the ears and easier to understand around the world. At least one of his poems and songs you will definitely have heard of – Auld Lang Syne, which is usually sung on at Hogmanay, the last day of the year.

So if you are celebrating a Burns Night sometime this week – then enjoy .. enjoy the poetry, enjoy the bagpipes, enjoy the ceremony (as there’s bound to be one!) and above all drink a toast to that celebrated Scotsman – Robert Burns.

The Bagpiper, by Hendrick ter Brugghen (17th Century, Netherlands).
It always amazes me how much our ancestors could achieve – Burns’ father educating all his seven children, as well as attempting to farm the land in very tough conditions; Burns’ dissolute life that still enabled him to rise up the ranks and become accepted by the establishment, while continuing to write, record and compose so many works that we continue to love to this day.

Dear Mr Postman .. yesterday was lovely, but today another grey damp January day .. one day nearer Spring I suppose! My mother is still not so good, but is improving very slowly.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Mark said...

I was unaware of Burns night or Mr. Burns for that matter. Sounds like a great reason to celebrate. I will lift my glass to him this eve.

Wilma Ham said...

Oh Hilary, how delightful you write and again I find another Dutch reference in here. You know that I get to see my old country in a whole new light thanks to your posts.
You say that it is interesting how much the people in those days achieved.
Indeed as they had less distractions, didn't sit in traffic 2 to 3 hours a day and everything in their life was more congruent. Their attention was not as distracted and scattered as ours.
In our busyness we spread ourselves thinly and our productivity goes down. Once again, you are a good observer.
Best wishes for your mother and for you of course, love Wilma.

Wilma Ham said...

Oh Hilary. I am catching up and reading your previous posts and what do I see? I was right wasn't I, I am learning more about my own country than I ever have through your wonderful writing. I so hated history at school, they just taught boring time tables. But your writing is wonderful and now I do want to read about history.
Thanks about explaining the 11 city skating event, and I will now go and see what else I have missed during the time I was flooded with guests.
Many thanks for these amazing posts, I so enjoy them, love Wilma.

Paul Maurice Martin said...

And as I recall he's the poet who's considered to have kicked off my favorite period in literature - British, 19th century. Took as many courses as I could in that period as an undergraduate and really loved both the Romantic and Victorian poets and essayists.

Patricia said...

I celebrated today by just reading and listening to his poetry and visiting several site. I ate my Haggis in Scotland this summer - Thank you that was enough. I gave away my bottle of Scotch I carried home as my tongue loves it and my stomach now rebells at my twice yearly treat.

very good post my dear, very informative indeed.
I liked Joanna Young's tribute too about how well Burns would have been on twitter!

my party went well and was delightful - great watching all the children play in the doll house and the mouse house....after I thought how my mum would have adored those images...and all 3 of the little girls came in their "party" dresses while mothers came in their blue jeans!
Sending good wishes for your mum.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mark .. glad I've opened your eyes to one of the world's best known poets who is regarded as a leader of the Romantic Movement and a huge influence on Scottish literature and its development. I hope you get a chance to explore some of his poetry and lyrics.

Thanks for visiting good to see you -
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma .. yes .. we were so interlinked – your King became our King! It is interesting that Europe included England (across the Channel) in its historical development and we influenced each other so much, depending which kingdom was in supremacy at that time, including France, Spain, the Papacy.

You’re right – no cars, no tv, - they had to concentrate on what was important .. food on the table etc a simple life so important for us all. Thank you for your thoughts re my Ma and I – love to you too ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma .. me too: history didn’t interest me – much too hard .. so many facts .. now I find it fascinating. So pleased that you’re enjoying the posts and it’s great having friends ask for stories – makes it interesting for me: how the blog started really – as my mother sent me off to find out information for us to discuss on my next hospital visit in London at that time.

The Eleven City tour was fun to find out about – this year I don’t think they’re making it .. but another cold snap (I hope it’s that!) is on its way .. so we’ll see.

Great to see you here and lovely to have relevant comments and ones that satisfy all readers, who either comment or read. Have a more relaxing week?? – hugs to you ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Paul – thanks for coming over .. yes you are absolutely right – he was a huge influencer on literature as a whole, particularly with his enthusiasm for Scottish folk music – which is easier to remember with a memorable tune. He didn’t live long – he was 37, but his poetry lives on and of course at that time the British were exploring (as were other Europeans) and settling the world, so writers, artists, entrepreneurs moved too opening up the world to the influences of the home country.

Glad to hear you enjoyed his works and that Romantic era .. so many wonderful talented people, who we continue to enjoy through their publications – books, poems, art etc

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. how wonderful that you celebrated his life by spending some time listening to his words. I quite enjoyed haggis – but small versions! I’m sure someone has enjoyed a few drinks from your bottle.

Yes – I read Joanna’s post – it’s something I guess we should all explore a little more – Twitter, I feel has quite a lot to offer us bloggers: practise makes perfect.

Glad you had a good party across the street and back again – I think it’s such a lovely idea .. and being able to watch the kids play with the two dolls’ houses must have been such fun! Kids love getting dressed up – don’t they .. and I don’t blame the Mums in jeans – so much easier to bend down, scrabble on the floors on knees, mop up little faces, etc!

Thanks for your thoughts re my Ma .. have a good week!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Linda Bob Grifins Korbetis Hall said...

that's cute post, Hilary,
thank you for remembering people's birthday...

the food looks delicious,
handsome post.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Ji - he's one of our greatest poets .. so a little old! But still his legacy of poems, lyrics and Scottish food isn't bad either ..

Glad you enjoyed it ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Jannie Funster said...

I too lift my glass 2 days late to Robert Burns! Well, my cup. Or green tea.

My mother-n-law so loved Scotch short bread, laden with butter of course. I love it too, and am wont to ice the little cakes with a thin sugary coating, tho I understand that not to be traditional.

Edinburgh is a fascinating big old city. I would like to spend more time there next visit. And take the castle tour. And dance with a bagpiper.

Blue Bunny said...

i too wood liek to danse wit a bagpipper. i does a grate hiland fling, yoo know!!


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jannie .. not too late - celebrations going on for a week or so .. especially as it was a Monday. Not sure he'd go with green tea .. tea (brown presumably!) had only been in England for 100 years .. I guess he'd be on the peat water and Scotch. (I worte about tea on 19th August - titled Tea Containers .. as you'd guess it a bit more than tea.

How right you are plain old fashioned shortbread - without embellishment .. remember the Scots are known for their thrift - let alone traditions!

Edinburgh - I must go back too .. I went too long ago, recently (in living memory!) I've been to Glasgow! I wrote a little about that too - Romans, Monty Python & Scotland .. 10th August. Those Romans again!

Now dancing with a bagpiper would be good - his picture needs brightening - but he's by a Dutch artist for Wilma!

Travels for the future .. Great to see you .. present must be due any day soon ..

Cheers - tea cometh .. Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Blue Bunny - gosh it's cold here .. please come over we could all do with a bunny hug!

Oh oh - you menshund 'fling' .. I'm wurrid - wud the bagpipees laydees' lyk U fling'ing arund wiv their bagpiping mans?? They got gud and intrsting reeds tho' ..

Hugs for warmth .. it's a ghostly night - the moon is covered in misty swirls ..
Hardwick for his junior mistress ...

Janice Lynne Lundy said...

Oh the treats look lovely. And tea with cookies sounds so good. Can I come visit? Jan. 25 the Robert Burns movie was released here in the US. He is played by the ever-handsome Gerald Butler. Can't wait to see it! Hope mom is faring better day by day. Hugs!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jan .. good to see you - tea and shortbread always here and ready for you - see yo soon?! The Movie was a press release for one to be filmed in later this year - in Ayrshire and Edinburgh. I saw the Keats one late last year and too look forward to seeing the Burns one - should be very informative.

Thank you - Mum is slowly improving - hugs across the dark pond to you ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Sara said...


Let me start with the food. I'm sure I'd love the cranachan, the shortbread, the tea and everything else, except for the Haggis.

I tried this once and doubt I'm willing to try it again. Like black pudding, it's obviously an acquired taste:~)

I also enjoyed your writeup about Robert Burns. I haven't really studied him, but now you've made me curious. Thanks for sharing this:~)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. I think we'd probably all like the first few things - the Haggis .. seems to hang in the balance .. or its "bag" .. still it's a good filling meal & is now a Scottish delicacy - as you say try at least once. I love black pudding though - ?

Great .. I expect you picked up Jan's note .. that they're making a film this year on him - so should be interesting to see ..

Thanks for being here - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

BK said...

Hi Hilary, glad to read that your mother is improving. Interesting write up. I have the least idea who is Robert Burns until you mentioned Auld Lang Syne. It is good to be able to associate that song to a name.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Symphony of Love .. thanks for being here and for your thoughts re my mother - I appreciate that.

Glad you enjoyed the write up - I'm sure you'll have heard other lyrics by him without realising! Auld Lang Syne is so well known, and now you'll recognise his name and take cognisance.

Enjoy the weekend - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Liara Covert said...

Love Robbie Burns' timeless poetry but I leave the haggis for enthusiasts who appreciate it.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. I suspect you're not alone in that epicurean thought! The literature though is magical and remains so ..

Glad you love his poetry ..