MANY a family in this small community near Newark, N.J., will commemorate poet Robert Burns's birthday next Sunday with a meal featuring haggis, mashed potatoes, mashed turnips, and peas brose -- peas boiled in broth until mushy. It may not sound like an appetizing menu -- especially the haggis, a liver pudding boiled in a sheep's stomach. People do tend to make fun of it, says Kearny restaurateur John (Jock) Nisbet.
``The name puts you off -- but it tastes very like liver p^at'e,'' he adds.
Modern versions, indeed, may. But the haggis of Burns's time -- the late 18th century -- was more like a stew of leftovers, put into a bag and boiled, Mr. Nisbet explains. Besides liver, an obligatory ingredient was toasted oatmeal, used as a starchy binder.
Nowadays, Burns' Night suppers are largely a ceremonial meal, a reminder of Scotland's greatest national poet and of the poverty Scots left behind when they emigrated to America before World War I.
Between the two world wars, 40,000 of Kearny's 60,000 residents were either immigrant Scots or of Scottish heritage. The immigrants had left Paisley and Kirkcaldy, Scotland, to work in thread and flooring factories when the factories were moved to Kearny.
``Many of the immigrants have died or moved away,'' Nisbet says, but adds that ``we still have our Scottish-American Club. We are still very British. People want to be reminded of their heritage today.''
Americans of other heritages may not realize it, but the lyrics of the traditional New Year's Eve song is Robert Burns's ``Auld Lang Syne,'' sung to music from the overture to William Shield's opera ``Rosina.''
Most Kearny residents of Scots heritage, says Nisbet, go out to eat their celebratory meal.
``I don't think you could find haggis in a home here,'' he says.
Even the Argyle Fish and Chip Restaurant (founded in 1952 and now owned by Nisbet and Kearny native Bill Gordon) buys it from a nearby market, one of several along Kearny Avenue that sell Scottish and Scottish-style food and beverage products.
Scots in Burns's time were very poor, and the foods that are ceremonial today for Burns' Night suppers were the whole meal in the poet's time.
Now they are more or less a sampling of past dishes, usually followed by other traditional Scottish fare such as meat pies; ``bridies,'' which are like meat pies, but spicier, according to Nisbet; sausage rolls; perhaps herring fried in oatmeal; and usually an American salad of some kind.
Burns's birthday is being celebrated this year from Jan. 20th through the 25th at the Argyle Fish and Chip Restaurant where, twice a night, at 6 and again at 7:30, the haggis is brought into the dining room to the sound of bagpipes, while someone reads Burns's satirical ode ``Address to a Haggis.''
Haggis and many other traditional Scottish foods are rather heavy and too rich by today's standards. Often they contain beef suet or drippings, or are encased in suet pastry or a buttery crust. Shortbread, perhaps Scotland's best known cookie, is the ultimate rich, buttery dessert.
The recipes following are adapted from ``Scottish Fare,'' compiled and published by Norma and Gordon Latimer of Culver City, Calif.
A typical Burns' Night supper menu, according to the Latimers' book, would be a four- or five-course meal, starting with Cock-A-Leekie Soup, a chicken soup with leeks, onions, and prunes. This is followed by the Haggis, with its Chappit Tatties an' Neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips), then a main course of Bubbly-Jock an' Trimmin's -- turkey with sausage stuffing in the one cavity and an oyster-chestnut-liver stuffing in the other.
The trimmings: Stoved Tatties, or potatoes stewed with an onion, plus vegetables. Dessert would be either Cheese an' Biscuits (cookies) or another dessert, called Tipsy Laird, similar to an English trifle. Quick Haggis 1/2 pound beef liver 1 small onion 1/2 cup oatmeal 1/2 cup suet, finely chopped 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons beef broth 1/4 teaspoon cayenne 1/4 teaspoon salt
In a small saucepan, simmer liver until juices run clear when pierced with a fork, about 10 minutes or more, depending on thickness of liver.
In a separate saucepan, parboil peeled onion about 5 minutes. When liver and onions are cool, chop finely together.
While liver and onions are cooking, spread oatmeal in a shallow layer in a shallow pan. Toast about 5 minutes in a 350-degree F. oven. Stir occasionally.
Mix ground meat mixture and oatmeal with remaining ingredients.
Pack into a greased, heatproof 12- or 16-ounce bowl and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Set on a rack in a deep saucepan, add boiling water, cover tightly, and steam 1-1/2 hours.
Makes about 1-1/2 cups, or 6 servings. Meat Pies 1 pound lean lamb, cut into small pieces 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 1 small onion, peeled and minced 1/2 teaspoon ground mace Salt and pepper to taste 1/4 cup broth Hot water pastry (recipe follows)
Mix all ingredients except pastry and set aside. Hot Water Pastry 2 cups all-purpose flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup rendered beef fat or lard 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
Place flour in a small mixing bowl and make a well in center.
Heat fat and water to a boil and pour all at once into well. Stir with a wooden spoon until mixed and cool enough to knead by hand. Mixture will be crumbly.
Knead on a floured board until smooth.
At this point, dough traditionally is rolled into a thin round or oval and raised (shaped) around a container about 3 inches in diameter and about 3 inches high, to make 4 pies.
But dough is very tricky to handle this way, and we make our pies in disposable aluminum tart tins.
For ease of handling, divide dough into 4 equal parts; keep excess warm and tightly covered while rolling each crust and shaping it in a tart tin. Divide filling equally among them, and roll 4 top crusts.
Cut a dime-sized hole in center of each top crust and pinch edges of each top crust to bottom crust edges vertically, but without crimping.
Place tart tins on a cookie sheet, allowing at least one inch of space between.
Bake in preheated 350-degree F. oven about 45 minutes, or until crust is lightly browned.
``Scottish Fare'' ($5 plus $2.50 postage and handling) may be ordered from The Piper's Cove, a gift shop of Scottish and Irish products attached to the Argyle Restaurant. Write PO Box 444, Kearny, NJ 07032, or call toll-free at 1-800-447-1737. Excerpt from `Address to a Haggis' Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the puddin-race! Aboon them a' ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy of a grace As lang's my arm. Is there that owre his French ragout, Or olio that wad staw a sow, Or fricassee wad mak her spew Wi' perfect sconner, Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view On sic a dinner? Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care, And dish them out their bill o' fare, Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware, That jaups in luggies; But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer, Gie her a Haggis!