My grandfather started making haggis just over 60 years ago, when he set up his butcher’s shop, Macsween’s, in south Edinburgh in 1953. Like all good Scottish butchers he made his own sausages, pies, and of course, haggis. Then my father took over Macsween’s, and my brother James and I both joined in the early 1990s. At least, that’s when we began to be paid – we’d always been roped in to help during the school holidays.
I clearly remember eating it for the first time. I went to the Royal Highland Show after school to help my dad who was exhibiting there. I sat down in my school uniform to eat my haggis and I remember thinking how satisfying it was, and how clever my dad was to make something that tasted so good.
Haggis has an intensely savoury flavour and it’s extremely comforting. It’s a great alchemy – and we’ve got a damn good recipe! Though I can’t now speak to my grandfather to ask him where he got the recipe from, I suspect he learned it while he was training, at a German sausage maker with a stall in an amazing meat emporium on George Street in Edinburgh.
It’s pretty controversial to say, but haggis is not really Scottish. It is a global food that has simply become associated with Scotland because of Robbie Burns. People often try haggis for the first time on Burns Night, which is held each year on 25 January, his birthday. But well before Burns, people all over the world would have been making a dish like haggis. If you had to expend vast amounts of energy on hunting protein you wouldn’t waste any of the meat, so I imagine that everyone ate haggis of a kind. Now we’re a global culture, so haggis has come full circle, and now more of our turnover comes from England than Scotland.
A good haggis has a little bit of sweetness; a good, crumbly, melt-in-the-mouth texture; and a balance of seasoning that should do a little dance on your tongue – but that’s not so hot and spicy it burns the palate.
There are lots of variations on the recipe. For our 60th anniversary we created a series of limited editions that used a number of different meats and seasonings, such as venison and quince.
You can use haggis in lots of different ways: put it in lasagne, or eat it for breakfast on a hot roll with tomato and lettuce. But the classic is to serve it with neeps and tatties – potato and turnip. That’s the holy trinity.
Read the article as it originally appeared in The Guardian