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The Battle of the Haggis

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03/08/2009

By | From the Collections


Recent historical work casts doubt on the provenance of Scotland’s national dish, as reported on the BBC website on Monday 3rd August. Historian Catherine Brown has located a reference to haggis in Gervase Markham’s 1615 work The English Hus-Wife, which predates Burns’ celebration of the dish by more than a century and a half (and is, of course, held in the Wellcome Library).

The hunt is on, then, for more seventeenth-century references to haggis, to prove or disprove its Scots origins. The Wellcome Library’s recent launch of a digitisation programme is timed perfectly, making available as it will the contents of seventy recipe books from this period, indexed down to individual recipes and available for remote study via the internet. Already one haggis recipe is visible to the public, in an early seventeenth-century volume held as MS.635. In a faded but perfectly legible hand, the author instructs one in the art of making a haggis:

“Take a calves chaldron [entrails] and parboyle it; when it is cold mince it fine with a pound of beefe suet & penny loafe grated, some Rosemary, tyme, Winter Savory & Penny royall of all a small handful, a little cloves, mace, nutmeg,& Cinamon, a quarter of a pound of currants, a little suger, a little salt, a little Rosewater all these mixt together well with 6 yolkes of Eggs boyle it in a sheepes paunch and so boyle it”.

Does this help to settle the argument? Not quite: the snag is that we do not know who wrote MS.635 or where. This sounds like sitting on the fence, or maybe on Hadrian’s Wall: but all we can do is invite readers in to the Library or onto our website, to view the manuscript, try to work out its origins, and join in the argument.

The illustration shows Wellcome MS.635 open on the haggis recipe.

Chris Hilton

Chris Hilton

Dr Christopher Hilton was until August 2017 a Senior Archivist at the Wellcome Library.

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One Response to The Battle of the Haggis
  • Adam Balic

    04/08/2009

    Records for haggis dishes in Britain have a very well documented history outwith the Wellcome collection, starting with 15th century Harlein MSS 279 “Hagws of a schepe”. Further recipes are common in English cookery books throughout the 16th, 17th and early 18th century. The first Scottish recipe identified so far is from Lady Castlehill's recipe collection of the early 18th century, but this is no different in composition to the earlier Enlgish recipes. The first modern Scottish haggis recipe appears in Mrs MacIver's cookery book (Edinburgh 1773), it isn't mentioned in two earlier cookbook published in Scotland. However, the dish had obviously been around a lot longer in Scotland, if not actually well though of by everybody:

    Pansches, pudingis of Jok and Jame.
    Think ye not schame,
    Sen as the world sayis that ilk,
    In hurt and sclander of your name?

    William Dunbar (circ. 1460 -1520)

    So in the end the haggis is part of the culinary traditions of both regions.

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