Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Grow your own Haggis

Excuse the absence, I’m awa’ (away) hunting the wild haggis. This is very traditional pass time due to the January celebrations for the poet Mr Rabbie Burns which occur frequently at this time of year. Whilst some of you may think this wild creature is in fact mythical – let me reassure you, it's actually quite real. Here I am looking for the distinctive Haggi footprints on the cliffs at Yesnaby.

Obviously on the island we have our own sub-species, Haggi scoticus ‘Orcadensis’. This is due to the remoteness of the islands and our own sub-species developed. It is common throughout the 88 islands here, but sightings are rare. It’s described as being hairier than your normal Scottish Haggis and due to the weather in Orkney, they have two levels of fur. This is a bit like cairn terriers, which have a short fur layer and a longer fur layer to keep them warm. The length of the legs of the Orcadian haggi are more even than the normal Scottish species due to the lack of mountains in Orkney. Although this is disputed for the Hoy Haggi clan, which do actually have slightly higher hills to deal with and consequently the normal two short/two long legs of the Scottish Haggi.

The local Haggi tend frequent the moorlands and maritime cliffs. They are often found out in maritime heathland habitats, especially during the breeding season. The short maritime heath is preferable when raising young Haggi, as the puplets can often get lost in very deep heather of the Orkney moorlands. Haggi are also raised to be keen botanists and also like the local cliff vegetation due to the variety of flower species recorded there.
Hunting of the Haggi is a traditional sport throughout Scotland and on the islands. Although a Haggi ‘search’ would be more accurate than a hunt. These creatures are very shy and are hardly ever found. This does not stop us looking for them, that would spoil a good days fun!

As the elusive Haggi are very hard to find, nevermind catch, only the farmed type of Haggis are traditonally eaten. These are farmed in large heather areas of the Highlands, the free range types are the best and most sought after. Many people nowardays also prefer a vegetarian option and  a vegetable sub-species of the haggis (Haggi scoticus sbsp. Pepo), is sometimes grown. This plant resembles, in many ways, I have heard, a type spaghetti squash, but is very difficult to find suitable authentic seed. Another option, which is considered an eaiser method of procuring vegetarian haggis,  is to make your own. This type of Haggis is also very tasty and is not unlike the traditional farmed meat Haggis or the grow your own Haggis.

We do eat all these types of Haggis at other times of the year too. They are all normally eaten with mashed tatties (potatoes) and neeps (which are actually botanically 'swedes' (Brassica napus var. napobrassica, or Brassica napus subsp. rapifera), not a botanically correct turnip which is actually (Brassica rapa var. rapa).

But, in Scotland we call a swede a turnip - hence the word for the yellow turnip vegetable being a 'neep'.

It's taken me many years to work the distinction of it out. Put very simply - Swedes have a neck  (an elongated stem where the leaves are attached) and are normally yellow and Turnips do not. Turnips have the leaves coming straight out of the swollen root and are normally white. Phew there you go, the real explaination! But, in Scotland however, we call them the opposite (yellow turnip a turnip=neep, white turnip = a swede) - I know it makes absolutley no botanical sense, but there you are.

Neeps are neeps, they are always yellow and that's that!

Anyway - I'm back awa' (away) oot (out) on the hill tae (to) see if I can find my ane (own) wild Haggi. Mainly cos I cannae (can't) get any decent seed to grow my own norwardays.
If that fails, (and I suspect it will) I'll just have to order and eat the traditional farmed Haggis of which this is the best type!
Signed, happily with my tongue firmly in my cheek. A very happy haggis hunter.
Happy Burns celebrations to you all, if you are participating. Long live the Haggi, wild, farmed, vegetarian and planted types!


  1. Lol, you really are bonkers :) but I always learn something from your posts, like the latin name for swede.Happy Haggi hunting :)

  2. You don't say whether it was a left footed haggis or a right footed haggis. I was always told it was very important to know which you were hunting. But that was in the Highlands, so maybe it is different on the Orkneys?

  3. The haggi are ambidexteris here Janet! You're right its an Orkney thing!
    Dreamer glad you liked the silliness and the swede explaination.

    Haggi hunting has left me full of a cold, so I'm tucked up in bed!

  4. I'm sure you all realise my post was a jokey one - I'd never hunt a haggis! Xx

  5. Love this post! My Mum, Dad and Pip had Haggis, tattys and neeps for tea tonight :-)