At the end of January Scots around the world celebrate the birth of Robert Burns with a Burns Night supper steeped in tradition. But it’s a time of unique risks too, which the Fire & Safety Centre highlights with advice about the right fire extinguishers and fire blankets.
At my first Burns Night I realised what sort of evening was in prospect when I saw that the gravy boat was filled with Scotch.
At the time I wasn’t certain what I was likely to find on a Burns Night menu. I’d suspected a little Scotch whisky might be involved, but I’d never expected it to be poured over the meal.
So what is Burns Night?
It’s a uniquely Scottish celebration that takes place around the world on or around January 25th, to celebrate the birth of the iconic Scottish poet Robert Burns, author of the traditional New Year’s Eve song ‘Auld Lang Syne’. The date is marked with a Burns Night featuring a Burns Night menu of the ‘holy trinity’ of haggis, neeps and tatties – mashed potato and turnips alongside what Burns described as the ‘great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race’, the haggis.
‘The Scottish Haggis, (Haggis Scoticus Vulgaris) is a shy creature not normally seen in the wild’The Veterinary Record of 2007 produced a wonderful spoof article about the haggis, featured on the website of the Alexandria Burns Club. But rather than being an unlikely heather-dwelling creature, the haggis is a mixture of sheep’s offal bulked out with oatmeal and suet and flavoured with onion, spices and stock, squeezed into a sheep’s stomach and simmered for hours. Tasty. Complete Burns Night recipes are a little more complicated, since there are strict traditions about how the meal is served. I can’t think of another dinner offering anything like the facts about Burns Night, at which the main course is paraded ceremonially into the dining room to a musical accompaniment, or ‘carved’ with a ceremonial knife, or even a sword, whilst a traditional poem is recited. The whole thing is naturally leavened with a high degree of conviviality, as well as recitals of Burns’ work, and consumption of further distilled Scotch ‘gravy’.
Burns Night fire safety tips
But, aside from the tradition of Burns Night, there is a serious note to its practicalities too, most of which we’d suggest focus on activities in the kitchen. Cooking a haggis from the raw ingredients requires that long simmering time, during which pans are apt to boil dry if not closely supervised, and can then start a fire. To respond to that we’d advise having a wet chemical fire extinguisher available. Certainly they’re a must in commercial kitchens, and there are a number of fire extinguishers for kitchens and catering available. A fire blanket is another invaluable item to have on stand-by too.
If you are preparing a ready-cooked one using a microwave, there are two specific dangers to be aware of. The sheep’s stomach will more than likely have been replaced with a plastic ‘skin’ which will explode if it’s not punctured before microwaving the haggis – and more importantly the skin could well have been secured at each end with metal ties, which should on no account be put into the microwave. If that happens, any resulting electrical fire is best tackled with a CO2 fire extinguisher. For more information on the types of fire extinguishers, visit our at a glance fire extinguisher chart.
And finally, if you’re tempted to create an 18th century atmosphere appropriate to Burns Night by lighting the whole thing with candles, we’d offer one word of advice – don’t. After they’ve used Scotch whisky as gravy people often develop a relaxed attitude to naked flames, which can be a Burns Night recipe for disaster, leading to the wrong kind of burns. We’d advise leaving candles in a cupboard out of harm’s way.
Burns Night ‘head office’
The Robert Burns World Federation is an international organisation keen to promulgate Burns and his work, and has its HQ in the Scots town of Kilmarnock, from where it has just launched an appeal to raise £385,000 to repair the church in the nearby town of Mauchline, where Burns grew up, and therefore where the Burns Night tradition began.
Meal picture: Bernt Rostad, via Flickr
Dean Bower House picture: Robert Burns World Federation