An evening of Burns' poetry and traditional Scottish food was first started by Burns' friends on the anniversary of his death (21st July) at the end of the 18th century. In 1801 the first Burns club started celebrating the evening of memory on his birthday. Nowadays it is celebrated in Scotland, Northern Ireland and in expatriate communities around the world (particularly New Zealand).
Burns Night Supper Guide
Burns Night Suppers vary widely in style. From an elegant and formal supper, complete with pipers, guest speakers, musicians and a Chairperson to keep the guests involved, to a debauched gathering of rowdy drinkers. The essentials of the supper are traditional food, poetry, a bit of music, some whisky and finishing with Auld Lang Syne. Guest participation is considered an essential!
A starter of soup is fairly common. Scotch Broth, Sullen Skink or Cock-a-Leekie are all popular, traditional dishes. If you are not a fan of soup, Scotch Eggs made with haggis, potato scones with luxury ingredients and oatcakes with toppings are all perfectly acceptable alternatives. The main thing is to have traditional Scottish ingredients, so think oats, fresh seafood, clever ways with vegetarian haggis and the ubiquitous whisky!
Have a look at our recipes section for some more inspiration.
There is often confusion over 'neeps'. The word is a Scots abbreviation of the word turnip, however here in Scotland what we call a turnip, is generally referred to in the rest of the world as a Swede! A Swede being a Swedish Turnip. Swedes are a yellowish/orange colour, quite sweet in taste and incredibly easy to mash up with salt and pepper to make a side-dish to the spicy haggis. Turnips on the other hand are white with pinkish colouring and are delicious sliced raw into salads when young or roasted and added to soups and casseroles. So if you're going for a traditional Burns supper, you want to buy this Swedish Turnip.
The usual main course is Haggis, Bashed Neeps and Champit Tatties. Otherwise known as Haggis, Mashed Turnips and Creamed Potato, often served often with a whisky sauce. Traditionally by 'Whisky Sauce' Scots meant neat whisky poured over the haggis, but many cooks will prefer to make a creamier sauce with a touch of whisky.
Try our organic whisky from Benromach. A fine single malt.
Haggis - we only sell this in store as it is chilled. Small and large varieties of the vegetarian haggis are available. You can see it here in our webshop if you are logged in and tick 'see full product catalogue' at the top of the page.
Tatties are usually mashed with butter or cream. Find potatoes here in our webshop - fresh fruit and veg is picked and packed the same day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to arrive the next day.
The traditional sequence is as follows:
Dessert is cranachan (whisky trifle) and oatcakes and cheese. There is usually quite a lot of whisky being passed around!
Speech and grace
Often the Selkirk Grace (also known as the Galloway or Covenanters Grace – it's not a Burns original but he was known to deliver it at an Earl of Selkirk's dinner).
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.
Entrance of the Haggis
(don't worry we have a veggie version available in both of our Edinburgh shops!)
It is often piped in and then someone will give the "Address To A Haggis" :
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.
Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinkin ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,
Gie her a haggis!
For those of you who don't speak Lallans (lowland Scots) here's the anglicised version
Fair and full is your honest, jolly face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.
You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery soup,
That splashes about handled bowls;
But if you wish her grateful prayer,
Give her [Scotland] a Haggis!
There are toasts to the health of the monarch (toast tae the Queen), to Burns' (Immortal Memory), appreciation of the host, tae the lassies (given by a man) and tae the laddies (in response from a woman). There are also toasts to pretty much anything else you like, the country hosting, people involved and anyone who has previously toasted are common!
It is also common to have readings of Burns' work and occasionally other Scots songs, tales or poetry.
Slainte Mhath is the most common toast. Meaning good health to yours in Gaelic, it is pronounced Slan Je Va, slightly different to the Irish Gaelic Slainte, which is pronounced Slon Je.
A couple of fun facts about Burns to wow your friends or guests:
A small book of his poetry orbited earth 217 times and was carried on the 5.7 million mile trip by astronaut Nichola Patrick in 2010.
There are more than 50 memorials and statues of Robert Burns in the world. This is more than anybody else excepting religious figures, Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus.
Auld Lang Syne is one of the 3 most popular songs in the world. The other 2? Happy Birthday and For He's a Jolly Good Fellow (Guinness Book of World Records).