also known as 'The Great Chieftain o' the
Puddin' Race'. The origins of
this nickname for haggis comes from the poem Address
to a Haggis by Robert
Burns, the national poet of Scotland. It is
thought that the origins of the word haggis comes from the old Scots word
hag which meant to chop or to hack
A haggis is a small animal native to Scotland. Well when I say animal, actually it's a bird with vestigial wings - like the ostrich. Because the habitat of the haggis is exclusively mountainous, and because it is always found on the sides of Scottish mountains, it has evolved a rather strange gait. The poor thing has only three legs, and each leg is a different length - the result of this is that when hunting haggis, you must get them on to a flat plain - then they are very easy to catch - they can only run round in circles.
After catching your haggis, and dispatching it in time honoured fashion, it is cooked in boiling water for a period of time, then served with tatties and neeps (and before you ask, that's potatoes and turnips).
The noise 'haggi' make during the mating season gave rise to that other great Scottish invention, the bagpipes.
Many other countries have tried to establish breeding colonies of 'haggi', but to no avail - it's something about the air and water in Scotland, which once the haggis is removed from that environment, they just pine away.
A little known fact about the haggis is its aquatic ability - you would think that with three legs of differing lengths, the poor wee beastie wouldn't be very good at swimming, but as some of the Scottish hillsides have rather spectacular lakes on them, over the years, the haggis has learned to swim very well. When in water, it uses its vestigial wings to propel itself forward, and this it can do at a very reasonable speed.
Haggi are by nature very playful creatures, and when swimming, very often swim in a group - a bit like ducks - where the mother will swim ahead, and the youngsters follow in a line abreast.
From a distance, I'm sure you'll agree, the tourist can easily mistake a family of haggi out for their daily swim, as Nessie, this of course gives rise to many more false sightings, but is inherently very good for the tourist industry in Scotland.
The largest known recorded haggis (caught in 1893 by a crofter at the base of Ben Lomond), weighed 25 tons.
In the water, haggi have been known to reach speeds of up to 35 knots, and therefore coupled with their amazing agility in this environment, are extremely difficult to catch, however, if the hunter can predict where the haggis will land, a good tip is to wait in hiding on the shore, because when they come out of the water, they will inevitably run round in circles to dry themselves off.
This process, especially with the larger haggis, gives rise to another phenomenon - circular indentations in the ground, and again, these have been mistaken by tourists as the landing sites of UFOs.
I hope this clears up some of the misconceptions about the Haggis, that rare and very beautiful beastie of the (and very tasty too).
No-one has as yet been able to ascertain the sex of captured Haggi, and partially because of this, scientists assume the haggis is hermaphroditic.
This may also be a product of evolution, and does explain the logistic problems of bringing two haggi together - after all, sure footed though the beast is, if two were to mate on a Scottish hillside, it is a long fall down, and a slip at the wrong time may very well result in a reduction by two of the total haggis population
What is known about Haggis breeding is that, several days prior to giving birth, the Haggis make a droning sound - very much like a beginner playing the bagpipes for the first time - giving rise to the speculation that the bagpipes were indeed invented in Scotland, simply to lure unsuspecting haggis into a trap. At the onset of this noise, all other wildlife for a five mile radius can be seen exiting the area at an extremely high rate of knots (wouldn't you if your neighbours had just started to play the bagpipes?). The second purpose of the noise seems to be to attract other Haggis to the scene, in order to lend help with the birth. This also gives rise to the assumption that Haggis are tone deaf.
Haggi normally give birth to two or more young Haggi, or "wee yins", as they are called in Scotland, and from birth, their eyes are open, and they are immediately able to run around in circles, just like their parent.
The wee yins are fiercely independent, and it is only a matter of weeks before they leave the parent, and go off foraging for food on their own, although it is perhaps a two or three year period before they are themselves mature enough to give birth.
Most Haggis hunters will leave the wee yins, due simply to their size, but when attacked by other predators, they are still able to emit the bagpipe like sound, which again has the effect of very quickly clearing the surrounding area of all predators, and attracting other Haggis to the scene. This results in a very low infant mortality rate, with most wee yins actually making it to adulthood.
The lifespan of the Haggis is again an unknown quantity, but from taggings done in the Victorian era, we know that some haggis live for well over 100 years.
haggis season has begun
All over Scotland every gun
Is taken down with loving care
Though some prefer the haggis snare
For haggis are a wily lot
That's why they are so seldom shot
"We're the haggis, aye, hooray;
We'll live until next Hogmany"
Its flying upside down and low
The guns all fire, but they're too slow
And though it's rather old and fat
It's awfully hard to hit like that
And as it flies off in the mist
Great hairy clansmen shake their fists
And scream their curses to the crags
And stamp on empty haggis bags
And so the haggis gets away
To live until next Hogmany
"We're the haggis, aye, hooray;
We'll live until next Hogmany"
Haggis hunting season is the week before Robbie Burns Birthday, that's
January 25th. So, the season is open January 18-25th.
Only kilted Highlanders can hunt a haggis, and only then if they can play certain notes on the bagpipes .... and then only if they have secured themselves a Haggis Hunting License at Hogmany.
If the hunters fail to catch a Haggis then synthetic Haggis is made at home using an old traditional Scottish recipe instead.
Take the liver, lungs & heart of a sheep and boil them. Mince the meats and mix with chopped onions, toasted oatmeal, salt, pepper, and spices. Take one properly cleaned sheep's stomach. Stuff the cleaned stomach with the prepared contents. Sew up the stomach (leaving enough room for expansion to avoid a large messy explosion) and boil. Serve and eat.
Nowadays, however, there are easier and more palatable ways of making Haggis. If you have never tasted Haggis then you must...Real Scottish Haggis from Scotland is pure dead brilliant!
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