FEELING HIS OATS
Haggis isn’t for everyone—but a Texan turned it into a full-time job
IN 1786, Scottish bard Robert Burns put quill to paper in honor of his motherland’s national sausage, scratching out "Address to a Haggis", a paean to the “warm-reekin’, rich” preparation—the “great chieftain o’ pudding-race!” To this day, recitals of the poem usher mounds of haggis to Scotland’s tables each January 25, when the late poet’s disciples gather for the Burns Night Supper, a birthday bash and blessed chance for a haggis feast.
In the United States, outside of Scottish-American enclaves, haggis is unknown—or reviled. “Only dying’s reputation is worse,” says Jim Walters, a Texan of Scottish descent with a sincere appetite for the delicacy. USDA regulations compound the problem: traditional haggis contains a cow’s or a sheep’s organs, including heart, lung, and liver; ground into bits, these proteins are mixed with oats, suet, and spices, then encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered. (The USDA forbids the importation or use of animal lungs in products meant for human consumption.) While devotees savor the dish’s gaminess, new recruits may find dining on innards cooked in entrails an offal prospect.
Walters, who had his first, tentative taste of haggis at a Scottish B&B in 1994, was not put off. In fact, after that encounter, he traveled across Scotland, tasting every scrap of the stuff he could find. Returning home, he resolved to make it himself and devised, after at least 50 attempts, an authentic-tasting, USDA-friendly mix: beef sirloin (from Ohio-raised Scottish Highlands heirloom cattle), liver, and suet, plus pin oats, onions, pepper, and mace. His blend, cooked by a secret process, sans sheep’s stomach, won fifth placé at a 2002 Scotland magazine haggis taste-off.
After retiring from his job as an executive with the Boy Scouts of America, Walters converted his “deranged hobby” to a full-time enterprise, selling his Caledonian Kitchen haggis at Scottish festivals in the U.S. and on his website (www.caledoniankitchen.com; or call 877/474-6752). The 14.5-ounce canned haggis ($7.99) is a must with a Scottish breakfast of eggs, porridge, grilled tomatoes, scones, and toast. The 8-pounder ($74.95), best steamed for two hours before being consumed, makes for a splendid Burns Night repast.