A Scottish Festive Holiday Grace

My Scottish parents taught us to lift our glasses as grace was recited at any important family gathering.  Be it a holiday or a family gathering, everyone joined together at the supper table ready to eat.  The Scottish prayer was recited by my Dad in a manner that was more of a toast than a standard blessing on a meal. He commanded everyone’s attention, waited for silence, then raised his glass and reverently spoke in his thick Glaswegian brogue:

“Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thanket.”

Growing up in Pennsylvania, we recited this Scottish grace year after year, chiming in as we learned the words.  It was my understanding that the verse were largely attributed to the Scottish bard, Robert Burns, my Dad’s hero.  As the story goes, Robbie Burns was requested during a visit to the seat of the Earl of Selkirk to say grace at dinner.  Thus, the bard brought forth the old verse known in the 17th century as the Galloway Grace or the Covenanters’ Grace and was spoken in Lallans (the Lowland Scots dialect).

A Festive Scottish Holiday Grace

In the vernacular of the English, the verse reads:

“Some have meat and cannot eat,
   Some cannot eat that want it;
But we have meat and we can eat,
   So let the Lord be thankit.”

Today my brother and I fondly carry on the tradition as it brings up warm memories of years gone by.  So, we perform the same Scottish grace at our own family gatherings and hope that it will be carried forward. This simple Scottish prayer is also our connection to the legacy of our parents and family in Scotland past and present.

To give you a sense of the flavor of the moment during this festive holiday toast, watch the following by Bill Thomson, Ambassador for Hello Scotland, while he recites the Selkirk Grace at a Burn’s Supper at the Marriott Dalmahoy Hotel and Country Club near Edinburgh.

The words “some have meat and cannot eat” were never so meaningful to me as when my husband suffered from esophageal cancer.  We returned to Concordia, MO from St. Mary’s Hospital at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN and arrived home on a snowy December night, exhausted after a long drive.  It was important to set up Keith’s feeding tube and administer medications right away.  After two surgeries and complications of septic poisoning that almost killed him, we were delighted just to be home.   But, it was not long before Keith spoke by phone with his surgeon and said “This feeding tube has to go.  I want a steak. Can I eat a steak?”  Dr. Nichols laughed and said “You can eat any damned think you can keep down.  Just eat slowly, chew well and enjoy being alive.”  

A Scottish Dish of Mince and Tatties

Working up to the steak, I served him something that is a simple Scottish pleasure, Mince and Tatties.  This wonderful meat dish is a great comfort food that went through his modified digestive system easily.

My mother was a Scottish meat and potatoes cook, so this dish had been a staple in our family.   Most important is starting with good butcher meat.  Mom would pick out some lean stewing beef, then asked the butcher to grind it for her.  This way she knew what she was getting.  “Use chuck” she said.  “It has the best flavor.”

But, when I made the dish myself, it never tasted quite the same.  And, of course, there was no recipe.  She would say “Well, I don’t know.  Just use pinch of this and a little bit of that.”  By trial and error, I came up with my own recipe for the dish.  But, mine includes garlic which Mom considered to be a sacrilege.  It makes a hearty meal for a cold night.  So, I might try some for Christmas Eve this year.

In typical fashion,  I never wrote down my recipe either, but here is a link to a UK recipe that is a close match: http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/476/mince-and-tatties.aspx

It calls for Bisto powder, which is a version of beef granules, but a bit different.  You can order it through amazon.com or get it at World Market or Wal-Mart. Embellish with spices to your own taste.  The basic old country dish was generally quite bland.

A Scottish grace is not just for us Scots.  It is God’s grace and is for all people.  So, enjoy your own festive holiday traditions.  I invite you to relax for a couple of minutes and follow along with old country music.   Performed by North Sea Gas, the music is called “Some Hae Meat”

May you celebrate a festive Christmas and Hogmanay this year and for many years to come! And “lang may your lum reek.”

One thought on “A Scottish Festive Holiday Grace”

  1. This is very touching for me, as it brings back memories of my dad. It’s an interesting way to think of a verse I heard so often growing up.

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