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måndag 17 november 2008

Haggis - a complicated person

Today I rinsed the stomach thoroughly, and left it in pure water.

Then I started on the filling.

150 grammes of oatmeal
is to be put in the oven until golden coloured. They should not be brown or black.
250 grammes of beef suet
is to be finely chopped. Suet is like, hard, hard fat/tallow that insulate the kidneys. It is easily available in Great Britain, although not in Sweden. I used lard, as an old recipe said it could be used instead.
The liver
should be grated or coarsely chopped.
The lungs and heart
should be minced.
3 onions
should be finely chopped.
The water you cooked the pluck in
is coming to use. Pour it over the other ingredients and make the mixture watery. I used about 6 decilitres, and it turned out really good, but this will vary depending on the size of the sheep's pluck.
Last step is to add
2 tablespoons of salt, along with a teaspoon of pepper and half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and enough lemon juice to make the mixture tasty (I should have fried some of the mixture and tasted it, to know I got the proportions right, but I didn't. Still, the result was alright).

I will present the following steps with pictures. Commentary on the pics are found below it.

When everything is mixed into a paste, it is time to put it in the stomach. First of all, take a big pot and fill it halfways with water. Put it on a boil.

Fill the stomach about half full. I made the mistake of filling it all the way (Pic 1 - yes, it looks like...). Press out all air from the stomach, but leave a LOT of room (I didn't - see pic 2) - the stomach is shrinking by at least 50%, and the oatmeal swells a lot.

I looked at pictures of haggises on the web, and they seemed to be tied shut with a string (although it is a crappy pic, look at pic 3). I did the same, and lowered my happy haggis into the boiling water, and looked on as the stomach transformed (pic 4-5). I realised that it was going to burst in a matter of seconds, so I pierced it with a needle (pic 6). It was too late however, and the string fell off. The filling started to leak out in the pot, and my spirit sunk.

My clever wife however, took the situation under control, and took the pot of the heat. She put it all in a sieve, and in a matter of minutes we could refill the stomach. It had shrunk immensely. This time, we stitched it closely shut with whip stitches (pic 7-9). Also, we had cut off a bit of the stomach ("This is way too big. Lets cut the redundant material."), and we stitched the bottom together, filled it up, and left as much space as we could. Then we stitched it shut, and sunk both haggises into the water again.

This time, we had better luck. The original haggis had already shrunk, and was OK, but the other one shrunk considerably. We pricked it with a needle a couple of times, but eventually, it burst. This time it was not the stitching, but the stomach itself - I had scraped it too vigourously. I took it out of the water (it was only a small hole in it), and put it into a plastic bag, whereafter I put it back into the water again. I didn't want it all to go to waste, so I hope you forgive me if I cheated just a tad.

The Haggis is supposed to boil slowly for three hours. I boiled mine for about 2,5 hours, as they were kinda small. The finished Haggis was very good to the texture - as you don't eat it with sauce, I like mine a bit "juicy" (yes, I know it sounds disgusting). Every chef would of course have his Haggis different, but I like mine the way it turned out. During cooking, the water in the pot will evaporate. Keep hot water nearby to top up your pot as time passes, as the Haggis must always be covered with water.

Haggis is served with "neeps and nips" - mashed turnips and a dram of whisky. We found out that a glass of stout is an excellent companion to haggis and mashed turnips. It tasted a lot better than it looked, a real treat I must say, and it was certainly not disgusting as some of you probably think. You don't eat the stomach - it just acts like a vessel for cooking the other meats.

It had a buttery taste, not dissimilar to Bolognese. Salt was needed, maybe because of most of the filling leaked out in the boling water in the early process.

I had a couple of sceptic friends over, and they left like true believers.

My lessons learnt is to:

- Fry some of the mixture to make sure it tastes alright
- Leave lots and lots of room for shrinking and swelling, but make sure no air is left within the stomach
- Stitch the stomach together meticiously - just tiing it won't do the trick
- Be careful when you scrape the stomach - it can't be holed, and not even too thin
- Don't be afraid to prick the stomach with a small needle if it looks like bursting

Follow these advice - it is way too much effort put in to let the Haggis go wrong just because you are careless like I.

söndag 16 november 2008

Address To A Haggis

Fairfa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, orthairm:
Weel are ye wordy o'a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o'need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin', rich!

Then, horn for horn , they stretch an' strive:
Deiltak the hindmost! on they drive,
Tilla' their weel-swall'dkytesbelyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit! hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wadstaw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi' perfect sconne,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

Butmark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walienieve a blade,
He'll mak it whissle;
An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like tapso'thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, whamak mankind your care,
And dish them out their billo' fare,
Auld Scotland wants naeskinkingware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer
Gie her a haggis!

By Robert "Rabbie" Burns, 1786

To use every single bit

A couple of months ago me, my wife and my daughter went to a couple of friends' place in the deep forests of Småland. We had a terrific time, had lots of apples from their plantation, had great meals and hung out with the sheep at the place. A couple of days ago, Katarina visited, kinda late. And she brought at body wrapped in black plastic bags. I put the blinds down, and started to cut the body in pieces with a saw. It was quite bizarre - a regular thursday evening I stood in my kitchen with an apron, hair pointing in all directions, with a saw put to a sheep's body.

Today, Sunday, my dad visited, to help me butcher the sheep into good, choice meat. And then I had an idea. I have never tried to cook Haggis, so I dug up an old recipe I had when I worked in Scotland. Magnus and Katarina (special thanks to Katarina's mother for being a relentless slaughterer - she emptied the sheep's stomach, and put heart, liver and lungs into bags for me).

First step when making haggis, is to soak the stomach of the sheep in really, really salt water over night. The same day, you can also cook the liver, the heart and the lungs. They are to boil slowly in nothing but pure water for 1,5 hours. Make sure that the windpipe of the lungs are always above water - impurities are ventilated through it, and, if possible, put the liver on top of the lungs. As the lungs are filled with air, they have a tendency to float to the surface, which means that only about 60% of the lungs are in the boiling water. If this happens, try to turn the lungs from time to time. In this picture, note the windpipe hanging over the edge of the pot. Top up with water if necessary.

When the boiling is finished, remove the pluck (lungs, liver and heart) from the pot, and pour the water into a container - it is going to be used later in the process.

The next step is the yuckiest one. Put your hand in the sheep's stomach, and use a table knife to scrape of the "fluff" on the outside of it. Make sure not to pierce it. I found that it is best to work in small circles, and to have lots of water nearby. This is a stiff work. I guess the experts have no problem doing this, but I am quite certain that i spent at least 1,5 hours scraping the surface completely clean. The lowermost picture show the difference between unscraped stomach and scraped.

When it is good and clean, turn it inside out and wash it thoroughly, scraping if necessary - this is the surface where the sheep's shit is produced (hey - it is a stomach!), so you would like to be really meticulous when cleaning this. It has been soaked in salt, and that would take care of most (hopefully all) harmful micro organisms, but that is no excuse to be sloppy about it - work-work, as the peon said.

A stomach is peculiar, by the way. Really stretchy. Really smelly. Really yucky. It is fascinating. And you find yourself amazed by what you are doing a regular evening, with your arm half way into a sheep's digestive system, scraping frantically with a table knife.

Great experience, despite of the smell and the "oh-so-gross-factor". I learn a lot these days, and I am pretty positive no one of my friends have ever done this.

Tomorrow's the big day, when the actual making of the Haggis is taking place. I will of course report on every disgusting detail. Stay tuned for next episode of "Chieftain o' the puddin' race"!
And by the way - the smell still hasn't gone of my hands...

tisdag 11 november 2008

Party pics

Johan Looks grim. He always does, but this time - he is hungry.

All of a sudden - the pig arrives!

Everyone is happy.

Particularly Johan.

What barbarism!

Don't look ladies! It is not a pretty sight! Poor animal...

måndag 10 november 2008


Last weekend I attended a party held at the "medieval" pub Sjätte Tunnan in Stockholm. It was a five hour drive from home, but I was real excited to go. The party promised lots of old friends, and a handful of new ones. The setting: Our old friends of Fraternis Militia Carnis were having a 10-year-anniversary. At the same time, a new group dealing with the year 1412, a group of people called Stadsvakten ("The city guards") wanted to present themselves to the scene. This was of course welcome, as new late 14thC and early 15thC groups are always appreciated in Sweden, where reenactors are scarce and 14-15thC ones are even more scarce. This was a rare opportunity to have a look at new people and start interesting cooperations.

The people of Albrechts Bössor met up at Maria's place, where we had a couple of drinks. It was good to see them all, and to look at new stuff they had made since last time. It was particularly nice to meet Alex after a long summer without his burly company.

We went into central Stockholm, to Old Town, where we met other friends, ad had a change of clothes into our medieval gear. I had my new shoes and my new coat on (yes, yes, I will post pictures as soon as I can - I finished the damned shoes!). I re-used an old hat of mine - the so called blue-bell-hat - it is bright blue, and might remind you of a blue bell, if you really want it to.
In my new, fresh outfit I felt ready to tackle the evening - heck - even the world.

We went to the venue, and was welcomed by Sebastian, the head chef and an old friend - also member of Fraternis Militia Carnis (for short - Carnis, henceforth) - without any doubt one of the finest "medieval chefs" of the world.

We put our behinds down in a dark, cosy part of the pub, where the staff had made the table for us. First up was a guy, really interested and schooled in the theory of medieval music. I can't say I enjoyed it as much as I should have - he went deeply into the technical aspects of music and went on for a long time without catching my interest, so I was kinda relieved when he was done.

Then one of the guys from Stadsvakten presented the members of his group. They seemed decent enough, particularly for beginners.

Next step - the food. And the beer! I was hungry and thirsty, and when the plates were put down I was happy! The beer was served forth in big, big jugs, and it was not bad at all. I drank and chatted with people around the table and was quite content with life.

First course was pea soup with saffron, followed by a plate of assorted fish - smoked eel among other things. The other servings contained various meats with a grand finale - a whole piglet, painted in chequers, green and red. I had a back leg and ate until I nearly became sick.

Whilst eating I spoke with one of the guys from Stadsvakten, but sadly I can't say he impressed me much. He rather jeered at me, and tried to tell me off to show that he was better than me, and that he knew everything better than did I, even though I got the impression that he hadn't been reenacting at all before. Too bad. I was hoping for new comrades, but this guy more or less shamed the rest of them. Hopefully, other members will show that they indeed are good guys worth cooperating with in the future - I guess you can't blame the group for the individual.

This put me in kind of a bad mood (I was hoping for so much, and was disappointed), and one of our colleagues in Carnis had to pay for it. I over reacted to one of his jokes and slapped him before I really knew what was happening. It is really nothing I am proud of - on the contrary I feel a bit ashamed even as I write this. I begged his pardon of course, and as far as I know he accepted it; at least we hugged and sorted things out immediately. Sorry again, Ludde. It just happened.

On the good note, two German colleagues from More Majorum showed up, and brought me greetings from Fabse, an acquaintance from Morimondo, as well as from Roland, in charge of arranging the Bachritterburg event 2009.

All in all though, I thought the night was a bit too expensive in comparison to what I got, plus I forgot my "ordinary" jacket and had to go get it the morning after, still really hung over... I'll post some photos when I get around to it.