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It's haggis time again in Clover

CLOVER -- I have eaten haggis. The real deal, served up by a bareknuckled, mustachioed Scot.

Sheep organs, brains, the blood, everything except the wool and the baa, cooked with coarse oatmeal bagged in the sheep's stomach. Served up with mashed rutabagas or turnips on the side, with whiskey as an appetizer.

Loved that haggis.

So, too, can you, Saturday at Clover's Feis Chlobhair, the northern York County town's Scottish games festival. Sort of. The haggis isn't traditional Saturday.

"It's beef, beef liver, onions, oats and our secret seasonings," said South Carolina's haggis man straight from Scotland, Sumter's David McAndrew.

Apparently, the government doesn't take much of a shine to cooked sheep organs and blood, McAndrew said, so he cooks and sells haggis in a way to make politicians and bureaucrats happy and still get people to try it and eat it.

"The board, the menu, it has what's in the haggis right there so people can see," McAndrew said.

He described his haggis as similar to liver pate, coarser from the oats.

"Smells like liver," he said.

I can see the line now. The smell wafts over the fairground, shoving aside the smell of frying funnel cakes and french fries like a big bully.

"Is that liver?" say the salivating girls in their tiny clothes and pierced bellybuttons. Young ones, begging their dads, "Can I get a haggis, Pop? Pleeeaese!"

My wife's grandmother made a living decades ago on the islands of Antigua and St. Thomas making and selling rice pudding -- pig innards, cooked with the blood and seasonings, mixed with rice and stuffed back into the pig's intestine. I have eaten that a thousand times with great relish. I wish I had some now. Haggis is a kissing cousin, just woolier.

"Some people think a haggis is an actual animal," McAndrew said.

McAndrew is a guy who knows his haggis. He and his wife, Katherine, make the rounds of Scottish festivals along the eastern seaboard, and his brother in New Jersey does, too. McAndrew came to Sumter from Jersey a decade ago and set up his haggis empire. He is a fixture at Feis Chlobhair and other festivals. He takes his haggis wagon to the masses. McAndrew was born in Scotland and still speaks with his Scottish accent that people line up just to hear.

Maybe they listen so they don't have to eat haggis after finding out what's in haggis.

"Now, I use a casing, like a sausage, instead of the stomach," he said. "What I do is wrap it in a puff pastry, to keep it moist."

He sells his haggis for $7 a pop, by the thousands. Better than 5,000 sold at some festivals.

"It's really taken off," McAndrew said of the haggis sales.

I guess "taken off" means number sold, not the customers who find out what haggis is and then take off for something more traditional. Like muskrat or boar.

Yet, those who won't try haggis probably eat $19 a pound organic microgreens and free-range turkey sandwiches on gluten-free bread, like the young yuppies I work alongside eat. Along with their $4.37 cups of tea, while complaining about how poor they are.

The curious, the tough, that fat, bald and brutally boring guy on TV's "Bizarre Foods," all surely try haggis. Even the great, long dead poet Robert Burns wrote "Address to a Haggis," espousing offal joys. And at a Scottish festival, what else are you gonna eat that is traditional? Scottish pizza? Scottish ice cream?

Scotch and water! I love tradition.

In Scotland, haggis is traditionally a dinnertime dish, McAndrew said, served alongside the mashed root vegetables. There is a ritual dating back centuries called "Presentation of the haggis."

I asked about the usual liquid accompaniment to presentation of the haggis, thinking maybe haggis connoisseurs like a stout ale or even a claret with their haggis.

"Usually, you drink whiskey with it," McAndrew said.

"Aha," say I to the haggis man. You have my undivided attention.

But on Saturday, there will be no whiskey at the festival. There will be the Irn Bru, the Scottish soda that outsells even mighty Coca-Cola in Scotland. Apparently, some kind of citrus flavor, McAndrew said. "But I've heard people say it's close to bubble gum."

Rice and gravy? Barbecue and slaw? Grits and eggs? No! Out of my way! Bubble gum and haggis!

WANT TO GO?

• What: 12th annual Clover Scottish Games festival, Feis Chlobhair. Admission and parking are free.

• When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday

• Where: Clover Memorial Stadium

• What to expect: Scots-Irish heritage featuring athletic and strength contests, dancing, music, border collies, genealogy and clan research, Celtic merchandise, food vendors and more.

• For information: Call 222-3312, e-mail clovergames@aol.com, or see www.cloverscottishgames.com.

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