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"Great chieftain o' the pudding-race"


Although I am the one with Scottish origins, it was the Australian’s idea to have a wee supper for Burns Night, in honour of the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth. A modest amount of research was done, mainly looking at the BBC website and consulting my father who knows all about Scottish stuff.

Arguably not enough research as we fluffed quite a few of the key moments. Firstly, no piper, but what can you do? They are hard to come by in Highbury. We did eventually download a skirling rendition of Scotland the Brave from i-Tunes but this was well after the main event and, full of whisky, we played it over and over. I fear our neighbours may not have thanked us for this.

I did manage the Selkirk Grace in passably Sottish tones, a gentle Morningside lilt courtesy of my first years of education at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh. We turned to the internet again for a convincing rendition of To a Haggis but there was some bafflement as to what was going on and we failed to make the crucial cut at the correct moment. We also failed with additional poetry recitations, speeches and the singing of Auld Land Syne. Rabbie Burns would be turning in his grave.

We made up for our lack of form with the supper and whiskies. No cock-a-leekie soup (it just seemed a bit too time-consuming), but some Scottish smoked salmon with brown bread and horseradish cream. And then the haggis.

I have in the past had mixed feelings about the haggis. Not from any squeamishness about what goes into a haggis but simply being unconvinced about the taste. Just about ok with loads of mash and swede with lashings of butter, but certainly no active enthusiasm. A schoolboy error this. Our haggis was a marvel.

We are fortunate enough to live near a fantastic butcher, Frank Godfrey on Highbury Barn, who in their infinite wisdom stock Macsween’s haggises. It seemed to defy logic to cook something which was already cooked for two and a half hours. I diligently followed the instructions and sure enough our haggis emerged from the oven deep brown and as appetising as a stuffed ox-intestine can look. It is a blend of the scary bits of lamb and beef, with oatmeal, onions, and the special Macsween seasoning – a secret almost as closley guarded as the Coke recipe. And it was delicious. There can be little doubt that the infant Edward will be hoovering up the leftovers for his supper tonight.

Isle of Mull Cheddar and Strathdon Blue (one of the best blue cheeses I have ever eaten) accompanied by oatcakes. And to finish a sort of deconstructed Cranachen – raspberry, honey and whisky fool with gooey flapjack.

We toured the Highlands and Islands with our Whiskies. Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old was the logical starting point. Very smooth and creamy, a touch of peat, honey and vanilla, everything beautifully in balance. Still on Speyside we moved on to Glen Elgin 12 Year Old – also very smooth but a step up in intensity, honeyed, malty with spice coming through on the finish and a wonderfully unctuous mouthfeel. My favourite.

Across to Skye for Talisker Distillers Edition. This has been double matured with the second session in sherry casks and the pungent peaty notes are softened by richness, spice and a full chewy texture. And finally over to Islay for a bottle of Bowmore Legend – a bit more punchy, with the classic island seaweed and smoke jumping out of the glass. Still very good but the preceding three whiskies were a pretty hard act to follow.

Of course the main problem in all this is quantity. We are all well trained in knowing our limits with wine and regulating our consumption accordingly. There were definitely a couple of people who went fast and early and the results were messy, to say the least.

For this entertainment alone I can forsee this becoming an annual occurrence in the Muscat-Wright household, although it does rather overshadow the festivities for Australia Day that we shall no doubt be indulging in later…