Scottish dinner to honor poet at Fern Hollow Nature Center

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

A little bit of Scotland is coming to Fern Hollow Nature Center on Jan. 26.

Instead of hosting the Italian dinner this winter, Sam Capezzuto, Fern Hollow executive director, said they decided to try something different for the center's Slow Food Series, which focuses on another nationality.

Board member Hazel Merrills of Sewickley Heights said April Claus, center director of environmental education, had the idea and approached her and husband, Simon, because they originally are from Scotland and also travel there frequently.

She suggested a Burns supper, similar to traditional dinners held in Scotland, to honor the late Scottish poet Robert Burns,

“My father is a descendent of Robert Burns and attended an annual Burns supper to recite Burns poems,” said Merrills, who along with her husband, is hosting the dinner.

A Burns supper, a tradition in Scotland for about 200 years, is a celebration of the poet's life and works. The suppers usually are held on or near the poet's birthday, Jan. 25.

The ritual was started by close friends of Burns a few years after his death in 1796 as a tribute to his memory. The basic format for the evening has remained unchanged since that time and begins when the chairman invites the company to receive a Scottish dish, haggis, a savory pudding.

“It is a tradition at these dinners. There is always a special poem recited as it is brought into the room, ‘Ode to a Haggis,'” Merrills said.

Guests are encouraged to dress in Highland attire and bring their favorite beverage. Non-alcoholic beverages will be provided.

Appetizers will be served in the Sewickley Heights History Center and will feature smoked salmon, smoked trout pate and a mushroom tart. Merrills is showing the movie, “The Royal Military Tattoo” from the Edinburgh Festival 2012. Guests also can stroll through the gallery or participate in a Chinese auction featuring Scottish merchandise, including a whiskey sampling.

Following the appetizers, guests will be seated at Fern Hollow and Simon Merrills and Pittsburgh area bagpiper Adam Valenti will present the haggis with a traditional celebration, which includes “Piping in the Haggis,” and a “Toast to the Haggis.”

Guests then will sample the dish served with sides dishes of rutabaga and mashed potatoes.

Guests are encouraged to memorize or bring a copy of a Robert Burns poem or song to share.

Dessert will offerings will include shortbread, rhubarb-apple crisp and coffee.

The evening will end with a whiskey tasting and a cheese sampling.

Capezzuto said Fern Hollow is hoping to make the event a tradition at the center.

Reservations are required to attend the program. Seating is limited to 50.

This event will support the education programs at Fern Hollow Nature Center.

The center offers more than 60 science programs for local schools each year that focus on Pennsylvania wildlife and habitat, geology, local watersheds and more. Last year, more than 3,000 students from 13 schools participated in those programs.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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