Monday, 27 January 2014

Happy haggis Monday to you!

Hello and a happy Monday to you! 

Haggis is my topic of the day but not a repeat of my recent Burns Supper haggis- this time I'm referring to Ancient Roman haggis.

Yes! The Ancient Romans really did eat haggis! 

Okay! Maybe not quite the variety seen in this image but to me, as a history geek, I get a real kick out of equating something like haggis as being a Roman invention. 

It’s fantastic!

My Roman Tribune - Gaius Livanus Valerius – who appears in Books 2 and 3 of my Celtic Fervour series might well have been eating haggis almost two thousand years ago when he was in northern Britannia.

I love haggis. I admit it, but the fact is there are many people like me who love being Scottish, yet they hate haggis. They hate the taste of it. They hate the ‘mushed-up’ look of it. They hate the peppery smell of it. They hate that it might be a ‘cheap-option’ meal. They just plain hate the idea of it. There’s just something about haggis that appeals to some, and not to others.
Now, if I was eating a gorgeous little lamb, that lovely little creature, would it make any difference to me that it gambols around the field? I doubt it. Baby sheep can be cute, but I’m a bit of a carnivore - I am quite partial to a lamb chop but equally happy to eat other bits of the sheep as well as you’ll find out. I have someone who is very close family, and very dear to me, who can’t bear the thought of eating anything ‘lamb’ but would eat chicken or a big fat steak at the drop of a hat.  Personally, I can’t understand that philosophy.

The type of sheep, of the Soay variety,  is thought to be similar to those which were farmed 2000 years ago by the Celts of northern Britain.

But… back to haggis and my Roman Tribune!

The world over, haggis has had the reputation of being a Scottish dish but, sadly, it’s a myth. In reality, in my part of north-east Scotland, forms of haggis have been around since the ancient Romans marched their troops northwards all the way up Britain. Perhaps the Celts, who lived in Scotland, pre-Roman invasion, also cooked some form of haggis but sadly, we have no Celtic written sources which would categorically prove that.

What is definitely known from written sources is that the Ancient Greeks and Romans made a form of haggis, as have other ancient cultures. The Ancient Romans were lovers of the sausage, their form of haggis being to them ‘just another sausage’ – a mixture of meat and grains bagged up and cooked in the gut of a sheep, or cow, or pig. 

What is haggis? Why might the Roman soldiers who feature in After Whorl:  Bran Reborn have brought it to Scotland?

Preservation of useful animal products is essential in communities who have no form of refrigeration. Traditional haggis is basically animal offal mixed with cereals and some seasoning, tightly wrapped in a skin- the usual in Scottish recipes being the stomach of a sheep. Sheep breeds in northern Britannia AD 71 would have been more like the Soay sheep that are still found on some Scottish islands. They tend to be smaller than contemporary breeds but would have produced adequate ingredients for haggis.
Offal deteriorates very quickly and must either be consumed almost immediately or preserved in some way to keep it healthy for human consumption. Haggis was a perfect way of extending the ‘shelf life’ of the offal from a couple of days to more like a couple of weeks.

Years ago when I first prepared haggis it was in a real sheep’s stomach. In Scotland, nowadays, they are more often sold in a plastic skin, the contents already cooked so that it’s more of a reheating process that’s necessary. 
What would the cook for my Roman tribune in After Whorl: Bran Reborn have used, if not the products of a sheep? 

If not sheep, he may have used chicken, or veal, or perhaps young deer instead to make a roman version of a sausage haggis. I imagine that garlic would be added by my Roman chef since there’s evidence that garlic was shipped to Britannia. And along with salt and pepper, he would likely have added some herbs – perhaps a hint of rosemary, sage or thyme. Bag it up and take it on campaign? I rather think the Romans would have done that, too! 

My tribune, Gaius Livanus Valerius, would not have eaten the tatties (potatoes) you see in this photo as they didn't arrive on Britannia's shores till many centuries later. Root crops were grown by Celtic farmers though whether, or not, they had the 'orange fleshed' neeps (turnips) that you see here is a question I'd love a definite answer to. Maybe the Romans introduced the orange variety to Britannia as well as other vegetables? 



1 comment:

  1. While in Oban, my husband and I ate some haggis. We liked it. People we tell don't seem to believe we liked it, but it was really quite good.


Thank you for reading my blog. Please pop your thoughts about this post in the comment box. :-)