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Recipes, News & Contests

A wee history of The Caledonian Kitchen

Posted By James Wilson in Recipes, News & Contests on Nov 25, 2020

The Caledonian Kitchen started as a labor of love in 1995, not long after Jim Walters and his wife Gay returned from a two-week visit to Scotland, the home of their ancestors.  It was then that they had their first taste of haggis, and they both loved it so much that they ordered it at every opportunity.  When it was time to return home to Lewisville, Texas, they stowed away a few cans of “tinned haggis” in their luggage to enjoy until they could find a local source somewhere.

Alas, there was no haggis to be found in the USA, not even at the nearby Texas Scottish festival in Arlington, Texas.  Jim complained about this to a Scottish ex-pat friend, one of the organizers of the event, who responded that – since Jim had been a cook in the U.S. Naval Reserve and had acquired considerable culinary skills – he should try making it himself and set up a booth at the next festival.  Never one to turn down a challenge, Jim decided to do just that. It was not an easy task, especially since the USDA does not approve use of all the ingredients in a traditional haggis recipe, and also because there was no reasonably priced source of lamb. But recipe research and consultation with local Scots revealed that haggis has a centuries-old history, that there as many different varieties of haggis as there are for other kinds of sausage, and that beef – readily available in Texas – had been and still could be used instead of lamb.  So Jim decided to make a “gourmet” version of haggis using Sirloin beef, liver, oats, suet, and traditional spices. After much experimentation over a number of months, and with valuable input from local haggis lovers, he came up with a recipe and set up The Caledonian Kitchen as a food booth at the next Texas Scottish Festival.  

The haggis was a huge hit, and the booth became a center of fun and fellowship for festival-goers.   Customers begged Jim to can the haggis to make it available year round and succeeded in getting that done by a small cannery in Illinois and, later on, when demand outgrew supply, a larger cannery in Ohio.  He set up an online business that continued to grow as the source for canned haggis for retail and wholesale customers all over the country, expanding haggis varieties to include lamb, Highland beef, and vegetarian versions.  He soon became well-known among Scottish circles as the “Laird o’ th’ Haggis” and traveled to festivals, Burns Nights, and other Scottish events all over the country.  In 2003, he was invited by Scotland Magazine to enter Caledonian Kitchen haggis in the Haggis Tasting Competition held at St. Andrews in 2003. Among the many entries from across Scotland and elsewhere, it was awarded 5th place. That same year, the haggis was sold at the Smithsonian Institution's Marketplace during the Scotland Folk Festival, where it passed and was approved by a juried quality selection competition from Scottish Chefs and historians. Caledonian Kitchen haggis has been favorably recognized in many interviews and write-ups over the years, including featured articles in Saveur magazine in 2005 and The Wine Enthusiast magazine in 2006.   

Early on during this period, Jim formed a close friendship and business relationship with Great Scot International.  In 2016, the Scottish Grocer became the sole distributor for Caledonian Kitchen products.  Jim and Gay continued production oversight of the haggis but retired to a more leisurely life with friends and family in a marina community in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Jim passed away suddenly on August 24, 2019.  His magnetic personality, love of other people, and great sense of adventure made him a larger-than-life figure, not only in the Scottish world but also among the huge circle of friends he made during his lifetime.  All were terribly shocked and saddened by his death and continue to miss him deeply.

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