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You don’t need to be Scottish to celebrate Robbie Burns

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Cathy Dobson

Robbie Burns

An unprecedented number of Sarnians are bravely having their first taste of haggis today, willing to eat unfamiliar animal bits to honour a revered Scottish poet.

It’s the 264th birthday of Scotland’s beloved Robbie Burns, celebrated worldwide by Scots and would-be Scots who appreciate the man and his literary contributions.

In Sarnia, there appears to be a surge of Robbie Burns celebrants, flooding the local Taste of Britain shop with orders for the traditional Scottish delicacy known as haggis.

Company manager Rick Hayhow says haggis has never been more in demand.

The sausage-like specialty is a mixture of oats, pork or lamb parts, onions and spices. Traditionally, it’s encased in sheep’s stomach but that’s hard to find these days. Haggis often contains pork liver, heart and tongue too.

Times were lean when the ancient Scottish farm wives dreamt up the recipe and didn’t waste any of the animal if they could help it.

It may not sound appetizing, but the taste of haggis is a pleasant surprise, said Hayhow.

“The problem is that people judge haggis without trying it,” he said. “I think if you are going to authentically comment on something, you need to try it.

“In my opinion, it’s quite good,” Hayhow added. “My nephews will eat a whole bowl of it. Others will have a few tablespoons on the side with a roast beef dinner.

“My son-in-law likes it in a grilled cheese sandwich.”

Karen Tobin of A Taste of Britain, with some of her haggis products. (Cathy Dobson)

Many Taste of Britain customers have bought haggis for private parties tonight, says store manager Karen Tobin.

Karen Tobin of A Taste of Britain, with some of her haggis products. (Cathy Dobson)

“This year everyone is in a holiday mood. Haggis is just flying out the door,” she said. “There are a lot more get togethers and a lot more new people who want to have a blow out with haggis and blood pudding, potato scones and sausages.”

Haggis comes in various shapes and sizes, ranging from a version featuring lamb and lamb heart that’s made in Scotland and shipped to Canada, to large ceremonial haggis that resembles a small chicken in size. At this time of year, A Taste of Britain also sells large trays of haggis for $76 each. They are used for big gatherings like the one last weekend at the Royal Canadian Legion.

A Robbie Burns Night was held for the first time in many years at Branch 62 and sold out, says organizer Catriona Belet.

“We had such a good time, people are already reserving tickets for next year,” she said.

The night was attended by 130 Robbie Burn fans and featured the traditional piping in of the haggis. A large ball of it was presented steaming on a platter and carried in by Legion president Les Jones, while Tom Rankin of the Sarnia Legion Pipe Band introduced the haggis with a recitation. The Address to the Haggis is an important part of the evening, as is the music and Scottish dancing.

Tom Rankin addresses the haggis.

“The Legion has a fantastic pipe band,” said Belet. “When the pipe band played and the dancers were on stage, that was a special moment.

“And when we all held hands and sang Auld Lang Syne, that was really beautiful too.”

As for the food, Belet said the haggis served that night was “absolutely delicious.”

“I grew up in Scotland and we’d have it at least once a month. It’s very, very good.”

Numerous local restaurants are planning to serve up haggis and poetry readings to honour Robbie Burns tonight.

Undoubtedly, Burns would have been amazed that the words he penned in the late 1700s would inspire annual birthday celebrations around the world.

By all accounts, he was a man of great humour and wit who came from a humble background and had an enormous legacy despite dying young at age 37.

Not only is he responsible for the New Year’s favourite Auld Lang Syne, he wrote volumes of songs and poetry, including – of course – Address to a Haggis.

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