Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Feasts and Festivals: Burns Night

Robert Burns is considered to be Scotland's greatest-ever poet. He's honored every year on January 25th. Traditionally, the thing to do on Burns Night is to eat haggis and read aloud Robbie Burns's "To a Haggis." A couple of years ago, I had a rather disastrous haggis-making experience. I thought I'd have some genetic predisposition toward it, seeing as a huge chunk of my ancestry is from Scotland. No such luck. So, this year, I'm incorporating sheep in a different way--roasted and with some yummy vegetables.
According to Mrs. Beeton, roast shoulder of mutton should be served with baked potatoes and stewed onions. I have complied with her suggestion and added carrots, as well. Mutton really should be used this time of year, but it's impossible to find, so I've used a shoulder of lamb I bought at the westside farmers market this summer and have had in the freezer until now. It's amazing that I could have forgotten about seven pounds of lamb, but there you have it.

Since I only have a combined electric range/oven and no fire (not even in the living room--a previous owner took out the fireplace in a round of misguided 1960s renovations), Mrs. B's Shoulder of Mutton recipe isn't much use to me. Also, Victorians must have eaten the most appallingly overcooked vegetables. So, I've made a few changes to suit my kitchen and my taste.

Roast Lamb Dinner

Roast Shoulder of Lamb

1 bone-in shoulder of lamb (7 lbs)
coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rub lamb all over with sea salt, place in a roasting pan fat side up and cook approximately 35 minutes per pound. Unlike lamb chops, a shoulder of lamb is served well done. A seven-pound shoulder should take around four hours.

When roast is finished, allow to rest 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Shred and serve with caramelized onions.

Serves 8

Adapted from Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook (1950), 267.

Caramelized Onions

1/4 cup butter
4 yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons demerara sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt

In a small skillet or omelet pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook 15 minutes, or until softened. Onion should not brown; turn down the heat if necessary.

Add sugar, salt and pepper and turn heat up to medium and sauté onions for about 1/2 an hour, or until very brown and very soft. Serve with roast lamb.

Serves 8

Adapted from "Caramelized Onions" in Martha Stewart Living, June 1995.

Baked Potatoes

1/2 lb russet potato per person

Scrub each potato and prick on all sides with the tines of a fork. Roast directly in the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour 40 minutes. Serve with butter, sour cream, salt and pepper.

Boiled Carrots

1/4 lb carrots per person, peeled and trimmed

Boil carrots until fork-tender, then drain. Dress with melted butter or return carrots to pan to boil in 1/4 cup cream per person until cream is almost entirely absorbed by carrots. Season with salt and pepper.

Recipes from Mrs. Beeton:

"Roast Shoulder of Mutton" in Mrs. Beeton, The Book of Household Management (London: Ward, Lock, and Co., 1888), 349. From Google Books.

"Stewed Spanish Onions" in ibid., 578-579.

"Stewed Carrots" in ibid., 743-744.


  1. I don't eat lamb, but I do love your recipe for carmelized onions. I am definitely making those one of these days.

    What book will we read with this dinner?

    I think something by Georgette Heyer (which I happen to be reading now) and what film should we watch?

    Jane Eyre??

    1. I do love Jane Eyre--book and movie adaptations, too. Haven't read any Georgette Heyer.

  2. Haggis! I love haggis! I had it in the Netherlands, at the house of an acquaintance of mine who was married to a Scotsman. He recited some kind of an ode to haggis that I thought was charming and then stabbed the haggis to a mild eruption of its yummy contents. I've always wondered about that ode; thanks to you, I know now that it is Burns' "To a Haggis!"

    1. I'm glad you had a pleasant introduction to haggis. I'm sure I'll attempt it again...someday.

  3. Hooray for Robbie Burns night! I forgot to make something (I had been planning too), but I am glad you remembered. What a fabulous roast!

  4. Gorgeous dinner!

    I remember as a child I decided to make a cake to surprise my mum and pretty much at random took Mrs Beeton's book off the shelf. I made her 'luncheon cake' - a vast, weighty thing using tonnes of ingredients... I added my own little touches too: banana flavouring (why did we even have that?! Well, it was the 80s) and pink food colouring. Needless to say it was VILE and my mum went crazy over the "waste of eggs and flour"!

    That said, my mum still uses Mrs B's Christmas cake recipe (adapted of course) every year.

    1. Eeeek banana flavoring is the worst! I'm sure it sounded fabulous at the time. Sounds like you had the very best of intentions, though! Besides, how can anything pink be bad?

  5. That looks wonderful! I am a Burns and always celebrate,but it will be late this year, as I am cooking a Burns Supper this weekend! LOVELY Lauren! Karen

  6. I love how you replicate these antique recipes. what a homey comforting meal perfect for winter.

  7. Yay! Mrs. Beeton saved the day (adapted, of couse)! I'm sure I don't have a genetic predisposition...

  8. Your dinner looks delicious, much better than haggis. I love that you are celebrating Robert Burns, and a Scottish culinary tradition. This is a great time of the year to do it. Enjoy your weekend!

  9. I once had a really memorable Burns Night when I lived on a houseboat and was going out with a Glaswegian. We had all the traditional stuff including a Tipsy Laird pudding and he read Burns poetry aloud to me while I prepared the dinner. Divine.

    Your lamb looks DELICIOUS.

  10. I love Burns night! I've hosted a supper for family for the past few years; of course, being a vegetarian, I've never attempted the haggis. We do all of the other traditional things, although I think that Robert Burns is probably rolling over in his grave as my mother recites "A Red, Red Rose" in her Oklahoma accent!


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