Last night, somewhat early as the bard’s birthday was January 25th, we partook of Sonsie Face. We attended the Burns Supper in our local village hall and savoured what Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s national bard, called –
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!
These are the first lines of Tae a haggis, the poem with which the haggis is addressed at every Burns Supper before being slashed open with a dirk (dagger).
Traditional Burns Suppers start with what is known as The Selkirk Grace. The organisers of ours had produced nifty paper place mats with the grace printed on them.
First comes soup, Scotch Broth or some other such traditional soup, thick with carrots, potatoes and onions, vegetables available during winter months that provide a warming and filling dish.
A hush of expectation, the pipes are heard whining into action, people get to their feet as the piper leads the chef into the room, carrying aloft a large platter with the haggis, product of a waste-not-want-not historic lifestyle in which nothing which could be eaten was left unused. Catering necessities, and the need to give diners hot haggis, means that a small Sonsie Face is used for this ceremony while the haggis destined for diners is dished up in the kitchen.
The haggis is duly addressed, speaker and piper enjoy a dram of whisky, then back to the kitchen with it for the already dished up fare to be served. The haggis is served with vegetables that as in Burns’ time and now are plentiful in winter, champit tatties (mashed potatoes) and bashed neeps (mashed turnips).
I did note one young man whisper urgently with one of the organisers, to be led towards the kitchen and given a large bottle of tomato ketchup that he squirted lavishly over everything on his plate. Ah well, each to his own taste!
Sometimes trifle is served as afters, but we had plates with a mouth-watering selection of cheeses and oatcakes. Yummy!
An interval for some chat and to refill glasses and then the entertainment began. Burns songs, a poem or two, more songs, the toast to the lassies (always an occasion for a bit of banter and leg-pulling) followed by the reply from the lassies (a welcome opportunity for us to get our own back!).
This was no grand showcase Burns Supper but a community organised one for the community. Many had put in hours of work and contributed ingredients, floral decorations and raffle prizes for the evening to be a success. That, along with the community spirit and chitchat made it, like the haggis, a chieftain o’ the supper race.