Jock is a fantastic fan of Robert Burns, knows loads of his poetry by heart, quotes him at the drop of every hat, and can talk interestingly at length about his life. When we first came to live in France, we were teased into giving a Burns lunch (as the main meal of the French day is midday we adapted the traditional Burns night).
My lovely Scottish sister-in-law brought across a veritable paragon of haggises. Nervous of Frankish foodieism – or faddishness if you prefer – we provided an alternative main course, but it wasn’t necessary. Jock translated the traditional Ode to the Haggis into ordinary English, and I turned that into an approximation of a French poem, declaimed by Jock in all three languages, and the animal was duly stabbed with our biggest kitchen knife. The whisky toast took the place of the Trou Normande: a thoroughly civilised local custom of drinking a shot of spirits between starter and main course (something like deglazing a frying pan), which has the effect of creating a hole (trou) big enough to receive the next course in comfort.
The 8 of us polished off enough haggis to have fed 20, and they even ate the skin! Fortunately, it was the traditional ponce de brebis farcie (stuffed sheep’s stomach) and not one of the modern plasticky substitutes.
The usual French inter-courses of salad and cheese were Scottish Cheddar, which they thought was far too strong, and home-made oatcakes. I thought that the traditional cranachan was a bridge too far, so I played safe with a millefeuille of raspberries and cream, which they didn’t believe I’d made myself.
Stappit fu’ myself, we were astonished when they saw the remaining half of my traditional English Christmas cake on the sideboard (bear in mind the date: 25th January). Despite their fear of eating something which would clearly be utterly stale, they polished off the lot with the French equivalent of yum yums. I mentioned that the cake had been made in October, and they were horrified until I explained the principle of ‘feeding’ the cake with alcohol the first week to preserve it.
The meal finished with the French folk being taught some Scottish songs. My brother in law’s video later showed this to have been unwise, as the entire company had by this time bien bu (well drunk) and was incapable of deciding on an appropriate key! Then, some had a short walk round the garden by way of digestif while certain of us did the dishes.
We were utterly poleaxed at that point to be invited back for supper to the house of one of the guests. Charcuterie and salads were brought out but Jock and I certainly had no way of eating another crumb. That didn’t put off the rest of them. It was much later that we learned that if you invite people for lunch in France, you are expected to give them dinner as well! Yet there’s nothing like the obesity here that you see in UK.
That was 18 years ago, and a different village. It’s taken this long to repeat the experiment with new neighbours and friends. We shall be 16 on 6th February, so four big haggises (haggae?) have been ordered and plans laid for an enormous meal. Watch this space.
* an animal with legs shorter on one side than the other, to enable it to run round the rugged Scottish rocks.
This piece was stimulated by reading all the poems for this week’s foodie Bigtent prompt. (see blogroll)