Kosher haggis supplier burns with enthusiasm

By Stephanie Brickman, January 20, 2011
It’s a wrap: Doreen Cohen and head chef Peter Turner with some of the haggis ready for delivery

It’s a wrap: Doreen Cohen and head chef Peter Turner with some of the haggis ready for delivery

To communities north of the border, Burns Night is when we are not just common-or-garden Jews - we're Scottish Jews.

On January 25, haggis will be ceremonially "piped in" to celebrations of the life and works of the national bard in homes and synagogue halls - and a poem, Ode to a Haggis, recited in mock solemnity.

But no self-respecting Burns Night party would be complete without a haggis lovingly prepared by Doreen Cohen, who is marking 25 years as the world's only kosher haggis purveyor.

At this time of year, Mrs Cohen's company kitchens at Simcha Catering are the scene of frenzied activity as she and her team prepare more than 150 pounds of haggis for dispatch to destinations both close to home and as far afield as Israel and America.

"We do vegetarian haggis and meat haggis," she explains. "When I first started, we used lungs and they used to just about jump out of the pot when you put them in, they expanded so much. Now it's actually spicy chopped liver. The other ingredients are very wholesome.

"There's oatmeal and lentils, barley and all kinds of root vegetables - carrot, parsnip, turnip and onions. Even in the meat version there are far more vegetables than meat."

The vegetarian option has become more popular, which Mrs Cohen attributes to distaste of the original non-kosher recipe, which calls for stuffing a sheep's stomach.

"We do not go near a sheep's stomach," she says emphatically. "Our haggis is steamed in a roasting bag."

Although somewhat more genteel than the traditional version, it is still a far cry from the chicken soup and kishke which great-aunt Sophie Geneen was famed for. Her Glasgow kosher hotel was a focal point of the community in the 1940s and 50s.

"During the war, when the servicemen came from America, Germany and Poland, they all came to my great-aunt's hotel. She never charged people, she was such a charitable lady. And that's where a lot of Glasgow girls met their husbands."

Continuing the culinary tradition, Mark's Deli in Giffnock is owned by Mrs Cohen's son.

"Food is through my genes," she says. "And I've got a passion for cooking." That passion became a vocation 25 years ago when the then kosher caterer in Glasgow was moving to Canada and offered to sell her business to Mrs Cohen.

"I said: 'Don't be silly, I can't run a business.' And I've been doing it ever since," she laughs.

Last updated: 11:17am, January 21 2011