It’s January in South Jersey, and you know that that means?
Whiskey. Poetry. And haggis.
If you’re scratching your head, let me explain. At locations in our area and around the world, people will be gathering to celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns – the national bard of Scotland. Rabbie lived during the latter half of the 18th Century, a farmer whose prose celebrated the country he loved.
In 1801, a few years after Burns passed, some of his friends gathered on his birthday (January 25th) to celebrate his life with drinks, haggis and reading of his poetry. This tradition became an annual celebration, and over time has spread throughout the world.
Why the haggis? Well, Robert Burns wrote a poem about the famous (or infamous, depending on your persuasion) Scottish dish entitled “Address to a Haggis” – and that very poem is part of the ceremony. And a haggis is presented with bagpipe accompaniment. Toasts with whiskey, including one for the ‘lassies’, is part of the festivities. A Robert Burns Supper is not just a celebration of the man but of the artistic spirit.
The largest gathering in South Jersey takes place down in Cape May, thanks to Exit Zero publisher Jack Wright who started the tradition some sixteen years ago. In fact, Jack told me that the Exit Zero Burns Supper is now one of the largest IN THE WORLD, with 400 people attending annually.
The Cape May celebration has become so popular that this year it has been expanded to a weekend. The main event will be on Saturday, January 25th at the Cape May Convention Hall starting at 6:30PM. Attendees can choose between haggis, vegetarian haggis, or shepherd’s pie if you want to skip the haggis part completely. The Burns Supper is also a charitable event, with a $5,000 donation going this year to Music Connects – a local non-profit organization that brings music to kids in Cape May County.
New this year is the Gourmet Scots Dinner taking place on Friday, January 24th at Exit Zero Filling Station. The five-course tasting menu is completely haggis-free, but does have Cape May scallops, chorizo scotch egg, a gratin of smoked haddock and crab, Scottish Salmon Wellington, and a dessert of cranachan – a Scottish treat with raspberries and oats. A whiskey tasting menu is also available for an additional charge.
For those who simply cannot wait until Rabbie’s birthday can celebrate a week early. The South Jersey Celtic Society has its Robert Burns Supper on January 18th starting at 6:30PM. The 15th annual celebration is being held at O’Connor’s American Bar & Grille in Eastampton.
The British Chip Shop in Haddonfield is back with its own version of Rabbie Burns Night which will be held on January 25th from 7PM to 9PM. There will only be a 7PM seating, so make a reservation and don’t come strolling in later thinking you’re getting a seat. You can go full Scot with an entrée of haggis with neeps ‘n tatties (rutabaga and potatoes), or go for the salmon cured with treacle and whiskey. The event is BYOW – aka bring your own whiskey.
And Josie Kelly’s Public House in Somers Point is hosting its Burns Night Supper on Sunday, January 26th 6PM to 10PM. Included in the entertainment portion of the evening will be highland dancers. A three-course dinner is being offered, along with an optional pairing of three whiskeys.