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How To Host A Burns Supper For 25 People In A Small Flat

January 26th, 2011 leave a comment


I’ve never been one to follow guidelines or do “what’s sensible”.

Unsensible escapades over the years have ranged from life-changing (cycling around the world) to just plain stupid (skydiving and breaking my ankle).

When Andrew & I invited 25 people to a Burns Supper and then discovered everyone was actually going to show up (we thought half wouldn’t come because it was a Tuesday night), we really weren’t sure what the result would be.

Inviting so many people really didn’t seem sensible. What were we thinking? Would we get so stressed that we’d just end up throwing mashed turnip at each other in the kitchen? Would we buy enough whiskey? Would anyone like the haggis?

On the day after, we’re happy to report it was a hit! Some people even went back for seconds of haggis. So… here are our tips for hosting a Burns Supper in a small flat for 25 people. You can do it too :)

#1 – The Menu

Here’s the good news: a Burns Supper involves pretty simple fare. Don’t complicate it. This was our menu:

  • Cock-A-Leekie soup (later renamed leekie-leekie soup because we made it vegan by omitting the chicken, butter and cream)
  • Haggis (150g per person should be plenty)
  • Mashed Potatoes (figure on 175-200g per person, we omitted the cream cheese in this recipe)
  • Mashed Turnip (we made 150g per person and had lots left over)
  • Cranachan
  • Coffee & biscuits & lots of whiskey!

Robert Burns Night
Andrew carrying the haggis on Robert Burns Night (Photo by Alicia)

#2 – The Logistics

You can make the soup, potatoes, turnip and raspberry sauce for the cranachan 1 or 2 days before the dinner. This makes life MUCH easier. To finish the cooking and reheating on the night, we…

  • Used a crockpot to reheat the potatoes (worked like a charm – they weren’t dry at all, despite leaving half the cheese out of the recipe).
  • Boiled the haggis on three burners of our stove.
  • Used the last stove burner to reheat the soup.
  • Reheated the turnips in baking trays in the oven.
  • Filled thermoses with coffee and hot water for tea, so we wouldn’t need the stove to make these things.
  • Whipped the cream for the cranachan a couple hours before guests arrived.

Haggis Cooking On The Stove (Photo by Christine)

We also decided to make the evening a serve-yourself-drinks party. We put all the drinks on one table with the glasses and just let people get what they wanted, when they wanted. This saved a lot of running back and forth.

I must admit that we decided to serve everything on plastic plates and drinks in throw-away cups. This goes against my normal ethics (we hate the throw-away culture) but the thought of doing dishes for 25 people was too much to bear. Sometimes convenience wins out over my conscience.

Finally, get one table and put all the food on it. You can serve from this table or let everyone serve themselves.

#3 – The Atmosphere

It’s important to set the right atmosphere on Robbie Burns day. Start by getting some Scottish music. If you don’t have any at home, Spotify has lots of Scottish playlists.

Next, make sure you print some Robbie Burns poems off the internet or buy a book of his poems. Towards the end of the night, you can encourage your guests to read poems aloud. It’s tradition! It’s also a whole lot of fun. You can go for something traditional and romantic (Red, Red Rose), funny (John Barleycorn) or just one to get the crowd’s attention (Henpecked Husband)!

And of course, if you can, it’s important to have a real Scotsman there. We were so happy that William (who we’d only just met a couple days before at a beer festival) agreed to come and read the Address To A Haggis for us. Thanks William!

#4 – The Whiskey

25 Jan 2007 (Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie..A mouse not a rat)

Whiskey! (Photo by Wonderferret)

Scotch whiskey is so important to Burns Night, it gets a whole category of its own. We’re not whiskey experts by any means but we’d suggest trying to get a few different styles of whiskey. Get a mild one for the non-aficionados and something more robust for the connoisseurs. Here are some nice whiskey suggestions for Burns night.

Also, apparently Duvel is the beer that goes best with haggis, or so we’re told!

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