by Ray Linville
Where in North Carolina is Scottish food celebrated, and when can you find authentic Scottish food in our state? Travel no farther than to the multi-county Sandhills where many residents still celebrate Scottish heritage, particularly today – known to many as Burns Day in honor of the birth of Scottish poet Robert Burns on this day in 1759.
As described in Transatlantic Scots, a recent study edited by Celeste Ray, the “exodus of Scots to America” still shapes the identity of many in our state, particularly in Scotland County, home of the “Fightin’ Scots,” and other locales with Scottish ancestry where foodways constitute a significant part of this identity.
Commanding a high honor on the menu to celebrate Burns Day is haggis. A traditional dish of the poor in Scotland, haggis uses leftover parts of a sheep (the most common livestock in Scotland) that would otherwise be thrown away. Learn more about the history of haggis on YouTube.
Burns, however, elevates this common dish to great importance by proclaiming it “a glorious sight” in his “Address to a Haggis.” Such lofty praise seems inappropriate considering its ingredients:
• 1 sheep liver
• 1 sheep heart
• 1 sheep tongue
• 1 sheep stomach
• 1/2 pound suet, minced
• 3 medium onions, minced
• 1/2 pound dry oats, toasted
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon dried ground herbs
I recently was served haggis in Southern Pines at the annual dinner of the St. Andrew’s Society of North Carolina. The chef marched in regally with a platter of haggis and ceremoniously presented it while the entire poem by Burns was completely recited by memory. What a way to start a meal!
On occasions other than Burns Day, traditional Scottish food can be found in our state, such as in Scotland County, particularly during the Highland Gamesthat are held each October, where food is on display as much as the athletic and musical competitions.
When I last attended these games, Scottish meat pies, sausage rolls, haggis puffs, and Forfar bridies (a meat pastry) were tempting. Beverages included Irn-Bru (a popular Scottish carbonated beverage) and ginger beer. Of course, desserts were also on everyone’s mind. Have you ever had a clootie dumpling with devon custard? Scones with strawberries and cream were very appealing as were sticky toffee pudding, cream meringue, and chocolate bread pudding.
In addition to these games in Scotland County, our state hosts similar events onGrandfather Mountain, as well as in the Triad. Because of the important connection of food to culture, these events feature authentic Scottish foods prepared using traditional methods.
Although foods that celebrate our roots and heritage to distant lands often take a secondary place in our diet today, particularly as it is influenced by fast and convenient foods, the traditional foods still serve as a bridge to a past not that distant. In many parts of North Carolina, don’t be surprised to find food with a Scottish heritage. If it is haggis, forget that it’s made from the leftover parts of a sheep. Just enjoy.
Ray Linville is an associate professor of English and humanities at Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst, NC, and serves on the board of the N.C. Folklife Society. Read more about Ray’s ramblings at his blog: — Sights, Sounds and Tastes of the American South.