Wednesday, 23 March 2011

My AGA and Me

The AGA and I have had an interesting relationship over the last ten years.  This item which symbolises country living, wholesome family life, and comes in an array of colours is at once my best friend and noble adversary.  I was actually really excited when I found I was moving in to a house with an AGA.  I felt like I was in a Rosamunde Pilcher novel--until I tried to cook with it!!

This particular AGA was installed in 1942, two days after my Great Aunt's Wedding.  They needed special permission to have one made during the war years because they required so much metal.  It was fuelled by a special treated coal, called coke, until the 1990s when it was converted to oil (thank goodness!).

I have heard rumours that they make the best cakes, they are great for canning, and they make the best toast.  Well, the toast is good.  Made with the "tennis racket."  You need to watch it.  Most people do burn the toast at least the first time they try it and many times after that!

But here are some of the things you have to know about using an AGA, or at least this one:

  • You need to be really flexible when cooking with an AGA, because you cannot really control the temperature of the hotplates.  There are two burners, the boiling plate and the simmering plate.  These are names which I find don't mean much.  In fact my boiling plate has not boiled properly in years.  Having said that, it is just a bit too hot for pancakes.  But the simmering plate is too cool for them, need to keep on top of your cooking and remove pans from the burners as needed to get the job done.  I sometimes feel like those chefs in the restaurant kitchens you see on tv, chopping and changing and stirring, etc. 
  • You cannot smell anything cooking in the oven.  The smoke goes right up the chimney.  And without glass doors to see inside, you need to check to see if you are scorching your meal.  There have been many a morning when I find a lump of charcoal which used to be a steak, which my Other Half has put in the night before for a late supper and forgot about.  I have also regularly burned both biscuits or cakes--especially if I am on the phone or trying to multi-task.  Invest in a kitchen timer you can carry with you or clip to yourself.
  • This oven cooks things unevenly.  It burns everything at the back long before items at the front are done.  So everything needs turning around halfway through cooking.  This is OK for biscuits, roasts, and vegetables.  This is not as good for cakes, Yorkshire puddings and probably not good for souffles (haven't bothered trying.)
  • The AGA is hot all of the time.  So some people have a regular stove to use in the summer and turn the AGA off.  My house is cold all year round, and so I don't mind having it on.  But you cannot easily cook items which say to start with a cold oven.  Or do ceramic painting which usually have this instruction as well.
  • The bottom oven is a great slow cooker.  Pop a casserole in there in the morning and you come home to a hot meal.  It also makes great slow overnight stock or soup with minimum effort or pot watching on my part. 
  • The AGA is great for drying clothes and nappies very quickly.
  • It is also really useful for drying plastic containers, tins, or any dishes really.  (The instruction manual says not to put some of these things on top, especially on the boiling plate lid, but I have been drying things on it for years)
  • It works best with heavy pots and pans.
  • You need to remember your AGA measurements when buying baking pans to fit inside, because they are narrower than normal ovens.
  • There isn't a temperature gauge on the old ones.  I occasionally buy oven thermometers to put inside and they eventually stop working or get smashed up when I put heavy baking trays in.  So everything is a guess.  See my first point above.
  • The bottom warming oven is great for leaving in a plate of food for latecomers. 

Great as a Drying Rack!

I think that when I leave this house I will miss the AGA very much.  And even if they are supposedly not great for the environment, if I had the funds I would be tempted to get one.  (Since we don't have central heat here, it is nice to have a stove which emits some amount of heat).  There is something especially comforting about coming in from the cold, lifiting the lid to put the kettle on and warming your hands with the blast of heat.  Having said that, I would also try to have a normal oven with temperature control and even cooking as well!

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