Sunday, 26 January 2014

Blue Monday, and a Burns Night Haggis - South Shropshire Journal 24/1/14

Well done, you’ve got through Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. Although a term probably conjured up by pseudoscientists, it’s got to be there or there abouts. Of all the Januarys I can remember, this has probably been the soggiest and dankest. My grandmother might say that this month thus far has been somewhat “dreek”, which is Scottish for, erm, soggy and dank. Granny is Scottish, so therefore at the end of a week that started so miserably, she can look forward to celebrating Burns Night, which is tomorrow. And what a celebration it is. To sit down on a damp evening around a table and tuck into smashed up sheep guts steamed inside a cow’s bottom will surely brighten the heaviest of hearts.

I don’t actually mind a bit of haggis, or as dear old Rabbie called it, “Great chieftan o’ the puddin’ race!”. I enjoy its peppery feral flavour, the way it fills your kitchen with the smell of wet dog as it steams. I like the dour, dry accompaniments of bashit neeps and champit tatties, but probably only because a quarter of me is resolutely north of Hadrian’s Wall. Look, if Alex Salmond gets his way in 2014, the Scottish Food Marketing Board will have to fight their own battles, and this time next year I can focus on something else more perky.

Like blood oranges. If ever there’s something to kick January up its wet bum a Sicilian blood orange does the job. Wrapped neatly in fancy tissue paper, they even look cheerful before you get them home from the shop. I cut into one the other day and Beatrice, my eldest daughter exclaimed, “Look Daddy, magic orange!”. And how right she was. 

The perfume of this fruit is higher than that of its more orangey sibling and its sweetness of a greater intensity, and the colour, well the clue’s in the name. My favourite preparation of the blood orange is to pare the skin and pith away, and then to oh-so-carefully with a razor-sharp blade, remove each segment making sure that no membrane comes with it. Scatter these artfully on a large white plate, and then get a plump, tight bulb of fennel and slice it as thin as you dare and scatter that too with a few of the feathery fronds. Chuck on some scrupulously picked thyme leaves and drizzle with the best new season’s olive oil (visit Zenon and Tamsin at their stall on Ludlow Market – their early Greek stuff will be ready any day now, and you will not get better). A liberal scrunch of sea salt and a grind of black pepper. Bingo. You’ll be thankful that you forgot to buy a haggis. 

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