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Robert Burns Night – DIY

Mike Clark’s birthday treat for us…

Clearly, it’s long past Burns’s birthday, but now is the time to prepare for next year’s celebratory feast.

You will require four basic ingredients, all of which need some careful advance planning. But all four can be home produced. Which, you must admit, adds a certain something to the occasion.

Time is on your side for two of these.

Potatoes, the principal, but by no means sole, ingredient of chappit tatties, I just about have time to deal with in my next column. ‘Cos here in Aberdeenshire, I always remember my Dad was perfectly happy if his tatties were in the ground by his birthday on 22 April. (“Twenty four hours ahin’ the Queen, that’s my nearest claim tae Royalty.”)

The neeps can wait a while. Late turnips, or swedes, or more colloquially and infinitely more affectionately, neeps, are best not sown until May or June. More on that later, too, perhaps.

Gee, you’d think I had a forward plan here!

But seriously, to be in time for a harvest next January, I must urge you to get your haggis cuttings in a propagator now.

Haggis has been the butt of so many jokes over the generations. Most, probably, perpetrated by us Scots, who resort to humour to defend one of our most beloved vegetables from the ridicule it receives the world o’er.

We all know about the animal it is supposed to be, with its legs on one side shorter than on the other, so it can remain horizontal while running round the mountainside evading its pursuers. Even less credibly, we’ve all heard the joke about the sheep’s innards. Bizarre though it may seem, this fable about mincing the unmentionable bits of a sheep and stuffing them inside the creature’s stomach has been the one most readily believed worldwide. No offence, folks, but it just shows how gullible people can be.

So let’s ditch the jokes, and with one eye on next January’s festivities, let me tell you how to grow this unusual, and uniquely Scottish, vegetable.

Haggis does not come easily from seed. Most nurserymen propagate this plant from cuttings from the parent tuber.

And, yes, you can do this at home.

Buy your tuber (for a tuber is exactly what this rugby-ball-shaped vegetable is) from a reputable butcher. Supermarket haggis tubers tend to be forced in artificial conditions, fed growth-promoting chemicals, and treated with a variety of undesirable substances to preserve their shelf-life. All this affects their fecundity. (Fecundity – such a lovely word, from the first syllable onwards.)

But a haggis tuber from a butcher has been grown organically, harvested fresh, and cuttings taken from it when ripe will produce a crop of young haggis tubers second (or indeed, fecund) to none.

Take a sharp knife – my ex-mother-in-law used her tongue, but I wouldn’t recommend that on hygiene grounds – and cut sections of the haggis tuber approximately one inch square. Twenty-five millimetres will do if you’re metrically inclined. I am reliably informed size doesn’t matter.

Take a small tray, and fill with seed and cuttings compost. Water well, and lightly firm. Or firm lightly, perhaps, as haggis tubers respond better to correct grammar.

Dust the bottom (the cutting’s, not yours) with a rooting hormone powder. Rub it in gently.

This is not essential, but the side effects are interesting.

Set the cuttings on the compost, and press lightly so that they settle in a few mm’s. (Note how I slip effortlessly into the metrication I so loathe. Fickle or what?)

Now give them bottom heat.

How you do that is entirely a matter of personal preference, but I use a thermostatically controlled electric propagator. But be careful where you plug it in.

After three or four weeks, your haggis cuttings should be rooting. The process will be speeded up if you’re rooting for them.

Pot them on into larger pots, but unless you live in significantly warmer climes than I do, resist the temptation to put them outside. Cosset them in the greenhouse, and feed them well.

However, like neeps, they need a good dose of frost in the winter to sweeten them. So come November, when the foliage has died back, set the pots outside. Or, if you are in a frost-free zone, bung them in the freezer for three months.

By January, you will have the plumpest, sweetest haggis you’ve ever tasted. There’s no pudding like a home-grown pudding.

And finally, the fourth ingredient.

Well, I can only offer my humblest apologies. But my recipe for growing your own whisky has been edited to extinction by HM Customs & Excise.

Still . . .

And if you still believe the myth about the sheep and would like to see a recipe based on innards, oatmeal and all the rest of it, look no further! Haggis recipe

Note from the Ed: Mike Clark recently won first prize in an international short story competition. Here’s a direct link to it on the Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau site.

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