Tuesday, 1 July 2008

HAGGIS, neeps and tatties

Two creatures I failed to mention on my Hebridean Blog this year were Haggis and Highland Cattle. I’ll leave the Highland Cattle for another day and concentrate today on that endangered species the Scottish Haggis (Sausagus albus). Haggis with neeps and tatties (swede and mash) is a traditional Scottish dish but its popularity has resulted in the small deer-like creature becoming endangered. Since most of the Western Isles is treeless the Haggis has long been extinct there but on our journey down we passed through Haggis territory.

Nowadays there are strict laws against hunting wild haggis and only farmed haggis may be used in Scotland’s seven haggis processing plants. However, the wild Haggis is said to be both more tender and more flavoursome and as a result poaching is rife. Haggis are nocturnal and very shy and disturbance by sightseers is said to have added to the stress on the few surviving herds. I was therefore very careful when photographing the above Haggis a few years ago and obeyed all the rules in the Haggis watching code.

The wild Haggis population is now thought to have fallen below 6,000 and most of these are to be found deep in the Caledonian Pine Forest where they feed mainly on fallen pine kernels and other seeds as well as the shoots of young plants. They have a particular fondness for mint which is said to add flavour to the meat.

Those who are against any form of Haggis eating allege that the slaughterhouses are inhumane (and even inhaggisane) and claim Haggis are needlessly tortured before finally dying in “these despicable mechanisms”. Once processed, Haggis are sold to butchers and supermarkets all around the world (even through the World-wide Web!) for Scots and would-be Scots to celebrate the life of the great poet, Rabbie Burns (1759-1796). Burns Suppers are now so popular that they last from November to March, thus creating even more suffering for these poor, innocent creatures.

As the 2001 English edition of the Larousse Gastronomique puts it, "..., haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour." However, there are vegetarian alternatives and these come strongly recommended, especially by the Haggis themselves!

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