Henri’s kitchen: 1. Cheese and Potato Nests

Harry Hayfield, a resident of Ceredigion in Wales, has long had an interest in the stories of the Musketeers which are set in early 17th century France, this led in turn to an interest in the Stuart period of history and joining a living history group. However, as a registered carer for his grandparents, he is unable to get to many of the events and yet wanted to do something to help. One day he was watching “The Little Paris Kitchen” broadcast on the BBC and thought “These are recipes designed by the French, therefore could they be converted in the 17th century versions of themselves?”. Doing some research he found that they could. Harry will therefore contribute four of the recipes as shown in the programme as if cooked by Henri de Ceredigion (Harry’s Stuart persona) a cadet member of the Musketeers, with able assistance from Planchet, his manservant cum stable lad.

Bonjour mes amis and welcome to my kitchen. Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Henri de Ceredigion , I am a cadet in the forces of the famed Musketeers that serve loyally under the authority of King Louis XIII of France and I am so pleased that my recipes have been accepted . I hope that these will give you as much pleasure as they have given me. I feel it is only fit and proper that I also introduce my manservant, Planchet, who has been by my side for the last year or so and is an absolute asset in the kitchen. You are, don’t be embarrassed please.

Today, by means of an introduction, I thought I would start with something nice and simple, namely cheese and potato nests which is a firm favourite in this household. First you need six good sized potatoes, about the size of your fist should do, and then you cut them up very small. This is where Planchet comes into his own as he states that he can chop anything to any size and he recommends that you chop them to resemble twigs that you sometimes find on the ground. Whilst that is happening, you finely chop an onion (excuse the tears), some garlic and then place it into a cooking pot with some butter (luckily we get ours from a very friendly farmer just outside Paris) and then cook gently. You can, if you wish add a bay leaf as well as I do, but that is purely optional. As that starts to cook, take some lardon and chop it into small squares and add that to the onion and garlic which should by now be gently cooking.

House mice devouring a large cheese. R. Hicks, 1888 Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Ah, Planchet, well done, there’s the potatoes done now for the cheese, and I have to admit we have had a bit of a disagreement about this in the past. You see, Planchet, comes from the alpine area of France and therefore brought what he called a “devotional cheese” with him. It’s the cheese that monks in that area use when offering communion. The problem that I found was that it was very smelly indeed. In fact, when I first smelt it I declared that it was worse than a farmyard and, I don’t like to admit it, I think I upset him because we then had a blazing row and he stormed out and I was worried I would never see him again. Thankfully I did and I apologised for upsetting him and explained why. The following day, he came back from the market with a cheese that I instantly recognised, as it was made to a recipe form Somerset in my native homeland. Oh, sorry, did I neglect to mention that at the beginning. Sorry, when I am in the middle of something my memory does slip. I’m English by birth here as part of a special mission for His Grace the Duke of Buckingham, but don’t tell anyone that. Anyway, back to the cooking, so as a result of that disagreement we alternate the cheese, but today we are making the classic version and so we’re using half a devotional cheese, but you are more than welcome to use any cheese you like. Chop that cheese into little cubes, about the size of your thumb, and put them to one side, then add two glasses of white wine. Yes, I know that grapes are very hard to find these days, but again, having connections to the south of this country does have its perks. Give that mixture a good stir until there’s only a very small amount of liquid left. When that happens add the chopped potatoes and then pour the whole mixture into a bowl.

Now, has anyone spotted the deliberate mistake? Anyone? No? Well, this is what happened the first time we did this recipe, we forgot to get the bay leaf out of the mixture. So before you pour it into the bowl, take the bay leaf out otherwise you might spend the next few moments looking for it. Once you have removed the bay leaf, just throw in the cheese and give it a good mix and then place it into either several small tins that have been smeared with pig fat or if you fancy something a little on the big side place it all into a large bowl. Then you place it into the oven and cook it for as long as it takes for a cheese smell to permeate through your kitchen or it looks brown and is bubbling away in the tins. Serve immediately lest a certain manservant decides to devour them all or if you are able keep them warm until they are needed with some lettuce, if you fancy it.

About Harry Hayfield: My name is Harry Hayfield and I have been interested in history ever since I was first taught it in high school. My interest in living history is much more recent and was prompted by being able to buy on DVD a cartoon series that I would like to think reflects how I would behave if my father suddenly packed me off to one of the prestigious military academies of Europe (namely the Musketeers of 17th century France) and the interest comes from the fact that I was the only boy to take cookery in high school.


One thought on “Henri’s kitchen: 1. Cheese and Potato Nests”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *