I guess that everybody wanted to see the guest of honor, the haggis, piped in with proper pomp and ceremony, but not many were actually bold enough to taste the savory pudding made from minced sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, oatmeal, onion and suet boiled in a sheep’s stomach. So if you attend the Rhinecliff Hotel’s eighth annual Robbie Burns Supper next Friday, you’ll be served a Highland beef stew as the main course instead.
The side dishes, however, will conform to Burns Night tradition: cock-a-leekie (chicken and leek) soup, neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes) and lemon curd shortbread for dessert. Skullsplitter Ale will be on tap, and whiskeys (or whiskies, as the Scots would have it) from Tuthilltown Spirits will be available for tasting and toasting.
But mostly, a Burns Supper is less about Scottish cuisine than it is a celebration of the birthday, life and art of the legendary Bard of Ayrshire. The Entrance of the Haggis is but the centerpiece of a full evening’s worth of recitations of Robert Burns’s immortal poetry, songs and storytelling. The whisky toasts are as essential a component of the ceremonies as the requisite number of times that the cups of wine must be raised at a Passover Seder; male participants tweak the fairer sex with the tongue-in-cheek “Toast of the Lassies,” only to get their own fondly sarcastic dressing-down with the “Lassies’ Response.”
The Burns Supper at the Rhinecliff will be hosted by storyteller Jonathan Kruk, who will share some anecdotes from the rakish Romantic poet’s short-but-eventful life (1759-1796). Master piper Jeremy Freeman will perform, Elaine Rachlin will lead the singing and Neil Roberts will demonstrate some Highland sword-dancing. Participants are encouraged to bring songs, poems and stories by, about and in the spirit of Robert Burns. At the end, everybody joins in singing “Auld Lang Syne,” in a context where it makes a lot more sense than on New Year’s Eve.
Burns Night at the Rhinecliff this year runs from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Friday, January 29, and reservations for the popular event are strongly advised. Admission costs $39.95 per person, $29.95 for bar seating. A special overnight room rate of $149 is offered for those who want to indulge freely in Highland spirits without falling off the mountainside on the way home. Make your reservations now by calling (845) 876-0590, e-mailing [email protected] or visiting www.therhinecliff.com. The Rhinecliff Hotel is located at 4 Grinnell Street in Rhinecliff.