Saturday past was the Big Stone Celtic Festival. I loped around with a can of dandelion & burdock, watched people try on druidic-looking cloaks, learned that a bombard was more than just something the Air Force does, and tried a wee bit of haggis dabbed on a slice of bread. And while I have loads of nice things to say about all the performers (no one tells stories quite like John Skelton… or laughs at stories quite like Tim Smith, whose Theremin I never had the opportunity to hear) I really want to talk about the haggis.
I was aware of haggis, but like most Americans I only knew it as a disgusting dish that Scottish people inexplicably pretend to enjoy. It’s made up of sheep “pluck” (organs) leavened a bit with oatmeal, onions and other spices. This is all stuffed into a sausage casing to the approximate plumpness of a grapefruit. It also comes in cans, leaving the market wide open for someone to make the first haggis pudding cups. It’s one of those dishes that inspires an entire culture of serious and silly events, like Burns Supper, haggis hurling, and haggis eating records.
Haggis tastes like polyps of large-grained brown rice held together by a savory paste. It has a similar richness to bone marrow, but less gloopy yolkiness. The brown mash that glues together the oats would probably be revolting alone, like licking a spoon of sludge. It has that umami ability to coat the tongue, leaving you feeling like your food is a lingering mouth guest. But with the oatmeal (and, if that’s not enough, whisky sauce or mashed potatoes) it becomes something rich in texture and taste.
It’s a best-in-small-doses kind of food, which makes me wonder why they only sell it in heavy softball-sized lumps. Why can’t I get this instead of a hot dog? Where are all the food innovators? Surely the inventor of the corn dog or the White Castle scientist who thought up chicken rings could do something amazing with haggis. Or are you going to make me wait? I can see it now. The year: 2047. Astonishing new technology has discovered a way to encase haggis into a more palatable shape. Served on a bun with some ketchup, it’s now the most popular snack at the mecha-laserball moon arena. Can’t capitalism make this happen any sooner?