Robbie Burns in the Bahamas -January 30, 2003
Timid connoisseurs find that haggis is improved with the addition of a few condiments
When we first visited George Town in the Bahamas in 1995, fresh provisions were of limited variety, often in short supply and expensive. Now there's lots of variety, everything's generally in good supply... but still expensive. Eight years ago, the arrival of the weekly mail boat from Nassau was a big event. After the boat was unloaded, cruisers would line up at the government market building next to the public dock and fork over a good portion of the cruising kitty for a few onions, some oranges and maybe a cabbage or two. Now supplies come in twice a week and most cruisers go to Exuma Markets, the largest supermarket in town, and fork over a good portion of the cruising kitty for anything from fresh asparagus to imported goat cheese.
Despite these impressive gains, George Town still lacks some essential food items. Last week David searched everywhere and couldn't find any haggis. In fact, he couldn't find too many people who knew what haggis was. For the one or two readers who are similarly uninformed, haggis reigns at the pinnacle of Scottish cuisine. It takes the form of a bloated sausage and comprises oatmeal, onion, and various parts of a sheep you would normally throw away - all ground up together, stuffed into a sheep's stomach lining and steamed. It's an acquired taste.
We don't eat haggis very often (Eileen would be perfectly happy if we never ate haggis), but last Saturday was Robbie Burns Day. Every January 25th people of Scottish descent the world over celebrate their national poet's birthday by consuming large quantities of scotch, drambuie and haggis. And every year about this time, David sets out on a quest for the food of his forbears. A couple of years ago, we were in the island of Sint Maarten and ended up sailing ten miles to neighbouring Anguilla and braving a surf landing to attend a Burns Day fete at a local restaurant.
This year, the prospects for Burns Day were looking pretty grim. David not only failed to find any plump haggis's on the store shelves, but he couldn't see the delicacy listed in any of the menus at the local restaurants. Eileen didn't appear too upset. She smiled, "I'm sure the scotch and drambuie will go quite well with grilled chicken."
But David was determined. "Resourcefulness is the key to cruising survival," he declared. "I'll make the haggis myself." Eileen stopped smiling.
First thing Saturday morning, David was in the galley up to his elbows in oatmeal and animal parts. "I've got lots of ground meat and liver, but I couldn't find any hearts or lungs," he advised. "It might turn out a bit bland."
"Thank god for small mercies," Eileen responded.
"There's also a distinct lack of sheep stomachs around here," David continued. "I'll have to cram this mess into a plastic freezer bag instead. Don't tell any of my Scottish relatives."
"My lips are sealed," Eileen promised.
David cooked the haggis in a pan of water in the oven for most of the day, nervously checking it every half hour or so. It swelled up nicely, filling the boat with savoury aromas. At sunset, he pulled the steaming dish out of the oven and armed himself with a sharp knife. He began reciting Burns' "Address to a Haggis".
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
After a couple of verses, he raised his voice and waved the knife is a decidedly menacing manner.
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
David plunged the knife into the hapless haggis. Eileen gasped. The haggis oozed.
Eileen generously offered David her share of the haggis. He wouldn't hear of it and spooned some onto her plate. She countered with a squirt of ketchup, dollops of two varieties of steak sauce and a dash of hot pepper salsa. Staring at the concoction before her, she bravely swallowed some scotch and muttered, "Why couldn't chocolate be the Scottish national dish?"