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YVONNE KENNEDY: Celebrating Scottish heritage

To celebrate Robbie Burns Day, Baille Arseneau and her son Simon of Sydney are enjoying a delicious bowl of porridge on a cold wintery day. Baille’s grandmother Effie Ferguson is a member of the Homeville Women’s Institute and her two great-grandmothers, Annie MacQueen and Edith Ferguson, were founding members of this community-minded organization. CONTRIBUTED
To celebrate Robbie Burns Day, Baille Arseneau and her son Simon of Sydney are enjoying a delicious bowl of porridge on a cold wintery day. Baille’s grandmother Effie Ferguson is a member of the Homeville Women’s Institute and her two great-grandmothers, Annie MacQueen and Edith Ferguson, were founding members of this community-minded organization. CONTRIBUTED

This column should be of particular interest to the MacDonalds, the MacKenzies, the Stewarts, and any other Cape Bretoners who identify with having Scottish roots in their ancestry.

In the 2016 census, 272,880 Nova Scotians reported Scottish heritage.

A quick glance at the names in the Cape Breton phone book will give you a good idea that these Scottish roots are widespread through every nook and cranny of our beautiful island.

Every year on Jan. 25, Scots and Scots-at-heart celebrate the birth of Robbie Burns, a Scottish poet and lyricist. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is celebrated worldwide for his literary accomplishments.

On the anniversary of his birth, Burns' suppers are held all over the world to honour the bard.

The supper always includes haggis, which is a mixture of the sheep’s internal organs, beef fat and oatmeal, enclosed in a casing of the animal’s stomach. This reminds me of blood pudding which is a popular meal for many Cape Bretoners. Haggis is served with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes).

A traditional toast of Scotch whisky tops off the celebrations.

Haggis is not usually part of the culinary fare on our Cape Breton tables so I started to wonder what foods on our everyday menus can be traced back to Scotland.

Shortbread is a traditional Scottish biscuit. It was considered a luxury item and for ordinary people, shortbread was reserved for special occasions. Many of us enjoy these delicacies during the holiday season over a good cup of tea.

Campers all over our island cook bannock over a campfire. Bannock is a Scottish quick bread that is cooked on a hot griddle.

All of us have childhood memories of eating porridge, which is a common breakfast food in Scotland. Our mothers cooked oatmeal in the morning because oatmeal fills you up and keeps you going until lunch.

Oatmeal is now being looked upon as a super-food in the world of nutrition.

Oatmeal is very nutritious because it is rich in antioxidants. People with Type 2 diabetes may find that oatmeal helps them manage their blood sugar levels. Oatmeal is a nutrient-rich food that contains many vitamins and minerals while being low in calories.

Researchers claim that oatmeal can reduce cholesterol levels. Oatmeal is a soluble fiber so people tend to feel full more quickly so it eliminates the need to eat more food for satiety.

Just thinking about porridge brings me back to memories of visiting Mabou when I was a young student at Saint Francis Xavier University in Antigonish. We often stayed at the home of Archie and Mary Catherine Rankin. In the morning, we were treated to heaping bowls of hot porridge. Maureen Rankin was my roommate along with Miriam Beaton, another gal from Mabou.

Those visits to Mabou were my first encounter with the Gaelic language. This girl with Italian roots from Dominion was awestruck by how easily their parents slipped into the Gaelic language at home.

Maureen went on to become one of the first Gaelic teachers in the Mabou/Inverness area. She is no longer with us but I am confident that she would be pleased that two of her children are now raising their families in Scotland. Her son, Kenneth MacKenzie lives in Mabou and is a strong advocate for the Gaelic language in Cape Breton.

Did you know that Nova Scotia actually has a Department of Gaelic Affairs?

Scottish Gaels have lived in Nova Scotia since the latter half of the 1700s and Gaelic is still spoken in families and communities throughout Cape Breton.

Rankin School of the Narrows is a Grade Primary-12 school in Iona where Gaelic has been taught since 1996. Students have an opportunity to enroll in Gaelic as a second language.

The Gaelic language comes from a strong, beautiful Scottish culture and the language is as relevant today as many of the other diverse languages in Cape Breton such as French and Mi’kmaq.

Many students from the local area as well as faraway places participate in programs at the Gaelic College in St. Anns and the satellite facility in Mabou, which was formerly Saint Joseph Convent.

The Gaelic language is alive and well in Cape Breton.

On Jan. 25, whether you are eating haggis, reciting a poem penned by Robbie Burns or just thinking about the influence of the Scottish culture on our beautiful island … enjoy Robbie Burns Day.

Suas leis a’Ghaidlig.

Yvonne Kennedy resides in Homeville and is a member of the Homeville Women’s Institute. She can be contacted at mlkenned@seaside.ns.ca.

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