So yesterday was Burns' Night, the 253rd birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet and most beloved son. Officially her most beloved son, by the way: he beat Mel Gibson - I mean William Wallace - to be named greatest Scot of all time.
On Burns' Night, Scots get together to eat haggis (great chieftain o' the puddin' race) drink whisky, toast the immortal memory of Rab, toast one of his other great interests in life - The Lassies (ooh, he was a one!) - and recite poetry. Or if your Supper isn't until the weekend (see above, re. whisky) at least we all have haggis for our tea.
For Scots in Scotland, this means a trip to the local High Street butcher or a trip to any chain supermarket to buy a haggis. For Scots in California, it means digging deep into their pockets and mail ordering a McKean's haggis from Maine. I did this last year, in a state of some trepidation having invited ten people for a Burns' Supper in my house.
Well, it was delicious, easily worth the delivery charge, light, fluffy, peppery, savoury - everything a haggis should be. I can't recommend it enough. If you'd asked me yesterday, though, I was ready to damn McKean's and all their works. My haggis wasn't here. It didn't come. All I got in the post was a phone bill.
Then I checked in with the undergardener and guess what? He thought I'd ordered it and I thought he had. This would never have happened in the good old days when men were men and women flirted with the butcher.
So. Early afternoon on Burns' Night, no haggis, 7000 miles from Scotland. What to do? I could have given up and had a burrito if I hadn't started the day with Val Mcdermid's Burns guestblog for Jungle Red Writers. I had wept with homesickness and now needed haggis like oxygen.
And I had a recipe for it.
In a book with tablet on the cover - got to love that.
So I made my own.
Eleanor Cowan's easy haggis calls for lamb's liver, suet, oatmeal, onions, salt and what another Scottish chef Nick Nairn calls "insane amounts of pepper". I had oatmeal, onions, salt, and insanity and I knew I could get liver - maybe not lamb's liver (more of this later) but hey.
I knew not to even try to get suet, having hauled myself round the local meat counters last Christmas looking for suet to make mincemeat to make mince pies. However, I thought maybe egg and breadcrumbs would have the same lightening and binding effect. And of course I knew from the kick-off not to try the difficult haggis recipe - liver, lungs, heart, and pluck (instestine).
Back from the supermarket, with my calves' liver and a lamb chop (very untradtional but I had to get some mutton in there somehere), I fried the onion in chicken fat (considered snipping in a bit of bacon just to hit every animal in the farmyard) then followed the least hopeful seeming recipe step I've ever seen.
"Boil the liver for forty minutes". Here's what boiling liver looks like:
Yeah, it's mostly scum. I do have a picture of what boiled-for-forty-minutes liver looks like too, but I'm always going on about how they shouldn't put the corpses of fallen dictators on the news so in all conscience I can't post it.
And it gets worse. After the chicken-fat onions, toasted oatmeal, illicit lamb chop and seasonings were combined, the mixture was moistened with . . . you guessed it . . . the liver water. Yummmmmm.
And then the whole thing went in a pudding basin and boiled in a bain-marie for two hours.
I felt no great hope. But as my co-shopping-failure said when he came home: "it smells like haggis". And then when I undid the foil and spooned it onto a plate, I couldn't help but think: "it looks like haggis".
And fan me flat with a rinsed pluck if it didn't taste like haggis. And pretty good haggis too. Very good haggis, actually. Well worth an address. I'm now covered with glory. Bloated, but covered with glory and I might change my Twitter profile to novelist and haggis-maker.
For dinner tonight, of course, we'll have that other great Scottish speciality. Leftovers. Fried.