Country Life’s guide to Burns suppers

How to host a successful Burns Supper

** Before you read on, make sure you’ve secured the tastiest haggis possible. Read our list of the top ten places to hunt out your haggis for Burns Night

Burns Suppers are ultimately a tribute to Robert Burns, Scotland’s best-known, most-loved, and official poet. Rabbie Burns was a prolific man in his time, led a colourful personal life, and is remembered fondly by all who have come across his work in Scotland.

Indeed all over the world, from London New Zealand, Burns Suppers are held with gusto, some with a focus on the poetry and others more with a focus on the whisky but there are no longer any really hard and fast rules – just do as much or as little – and make it as formal or as casual – as you like.

The evening is usually run by a Chairman (women weren’t even allowed until relatively recently). Guests arrive and are greeted by the Chairman, and once they’re seated he recites the Selkirk Grace:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

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When this is over the first course is served, which can be cock a leekie soup, smoked salmon or potted prawns with whisky .

Haggis with neeps and tatties Scotland Food

Then comes the entrance of the haggis, which, if possible, is piped in, as the Chairman gives the fond Address to a Haggis, one of the best known poems associated with Burns Night. At the line at the line An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht the speaker plunges his knife into the haggis to open it up.

The main course is now served – haggis with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). Whisky sauce (whisky poured over the haggis) is optional, and many other, more complex, whisky sauce recipes are available.

It’s a perfect January supper when the weather is dreich, and usually washed down with plenty of wine, beer, whisky and Irn Bru.

Pudding can be either a trifle, cranachan, or some other creamy, boozy pudding, and as many Burns poems as people choose can be read after supper.

After supper there is always entertainment of some form or another, including The Immortal Memory which is a speech intended to explore the talent of Burns through his work. This speech can be literary, funny, or both.

After this comes the Toast to the Lassies – often a humerous approach to Robert Burns’ own many relationships and foibles in love. This is then answered by the Reply to the Toast to the Lassies – a witty reply to the men.

Commonly this is followed by talking, singing, drinking and lots of live music – when the evening is about to wind up the Chairman gives vote of thanks, and the company sings Auld Lang Syne.