January 27, 2010 12:48:00 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
The Golden Triangle Celts'' celebration in Starkville Saturday would have pleased The Bard himself. And we don''t mean Master Shakespeare. In Scotland, that title refers to 18th-century poet and lyricist Robbie (or Rabbie) Burns, voted in 2009 by that nation''s people as the Greatest Scot -- narrowly edging out patriot William Wallace in a poll conducted by Scottish Television.
Like Scotland and much of the rest of the world on or near Jan. 25 each year, the Golden Triangle Celts memorialized the "Ploughman Poet" with toasts, song, recitations of his poems and the serving of traditional Scottish dishes known as haggis, tatties and neeps.
While the indigenous names are unique, neeps are actually rutabaga or turnips, and tatties are mashed potatoes. The ritual haggis is made of sheep offal (or pluck), cleaned and finely chopped, and cooked in a sheep''s stomach casing with a variety of spices and seasonings. The sausage-like food may sound less than appealing to some, but the 2001 English edition of "Larousse Gastronomique" -- that encyclopedia of gastronomy -- praised its "excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour."
Three Generations Tea Room on North Jackson Street was filled with a convivial spirit at mid-day Saturday as the time-honored procession of the haggis was led by bagpiper Thom Gordon of Mathiston. Resplendent in his clan tartan, as were several of the 40 or so in attendance, he preceded the laden platter carried in by Gail Gillis of Starkville.
The traditional food was toasted by all, and Burns'' "Address to a Haggis" was read, to the delight of expatriates, those of Celtic descent, and a few who wish they were.
A local tradition
This marks the ninth year Paige Laws, the proprietor of Three Generations, has hosted the Burns Day celebration. She''s a vivacious and active member of The Golden Triangle Celts.
"Any time a bunch of Scots get together, it''s a joyous time," she said of the weekend gathering.
Laws'' own genealogical roots run deep in Clan (Brice) McFarlane.
"It''s very interesting to know where you came from because, in many ways, it points where you''re going," she said. Then laughing, she added, "And if you look around, you''ll see characteristics ... The side of me that''s Scottish is very practical and very goal-oriented; and then there''s the side of me that''s Irish that''s very sentimental. I can cry in my beer and say ''Charge!'' at the same time."
The Golden Triangle Celts were formed in 2003, a free and open organization established for the love and promotion of all things Celtic. There are no member requirements, no mandatory meetings or dues.
The group''s other primary activities include a Saint Patrick''s Day celebration, participation in the Cotton District Arts Festival and a fall event focused on an aspect of Celtic history or culture.
Haggis is probably the best known Scottish food. It''s widely available in supermarkets in Scotland and other parts of the world year-round. It''s sometimes sold in cans and can be microwaved or oven-baked. It''s even served in some Scottish fast-food establishments, deep fried in batter. Vegetarian versions are available, too. While not necessarily for those with weak tummies, nonetheless it is a much-loved food for many a traditional Scotsman.
Neeps and tatties (also known as clapshot) are traditional accompaniments. They represent the frill-less cuisine of Burns'' era, the food of a people who survived by the land and seldom let anything go to waste.
Along with distinctive fare Saturday, participants enjoyed other Robbie Burns Day customs, such as the Immortal Memory speech, salutes to the lassies and laddies, and Burns'' lyrics -- including Auld Lang Syne -- performed by Scott and Lydia Enlow of Columbus, with Wayne and Becky Kelly and John and Dawn McGinley, all of Starkville.
And what Celtic gathering would be complete without the calling out of the clans -- an age-old roll call identifying Clan Donald, Clan Duncan, Stuarts, Andersons and many more. The custom is at once poignant and ebullient.
"It''s an acknowledgment for those that are standing here and those who came before us, honoring our forebears," said Laws. "And in the old days," she couldn''t resist adding, "it made sure you knew where your enemies were!"
For more information about the Golden Triangle Celts, contact Laws at 662-324-1507. To be added to the group''s e-mail list, write [email protected], or contact Johanna Rice Goree at 662-323-6217.
If you feel like exploring your inner Celt in the kitchen, try a wee recipe or two from today''s food pages.
NEEPS AND TATTIES
3 pounds potatoes (about six medium sized)
3 pounds rutabaga (approximate)
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 cup hot milk
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground (if possible) pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible), or to taste
I tablespoon chopped parsley, optional
6 ounces plain flour
4 ounces soft butter
2 ounces granulated sugar
1 ounce cornstarch
8 ounces self-rising flour
Two beaten eggs
Three rounded tablespoons granulated sugar
4 ounces margarine
One drop vanilla extract
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
1 teaspoon orange rind, finely grated
2 tablespoons milk
Pinch of salt
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.