We had our Aga serviced this week, which meant that it was a convenient time to give it a good scrub and take some pictures. Because it’s on all the time, it’s not always easy to get in and give it a really good clean, especially around the hotplates, so I enjoy the opportunity to get rid of all the accumulated muck and make it shine when I can. There’s usually a large dog snoring on his bed in front of it, but he took himself off in disgust because it was cold.
This is my Aga. It’s a two-oven Aga and the colour is Wedgwood Blue. I love it. I absolutely love it. I’ve wanted an Aga from being about sixteen when I was on a very wet holiday and the owners of the house we were staying at dried all our clothes and boots overnight on their Aga. Oh, the joy of putting warm clothes on the next morning! I was sold, and promised myself that one day I would have an Aga in my kitchen. My husband says that I would leave him before I left my Aga and although that’s not true, I would be very sad to have to cook on anything else now.
Agas were developed in the early 1920s by the blind Swedish Nobel prize-winning physicist, Gustav Dalen, who wanted to find a way to make it easier for his wife to cook. It works on the principles of heat storage. The frame of the Aga is enamelled cast iron which absorbs the heat from a constant low-burning heat source which can be fired by oil, gas or electricity. Ours is oil-fired and stays on all the time – some people like to turn theirs off during the summer months but we don’t have another way of cooking so ours stays on. If you look at the picture above, it looks as if we have three ovens, but the door on the left is the burner and the two doors on the right are the ovens.
This is what’s inside the burner door. The oil comes in through a small pipe to the burner in the centre which is constantly burning. The temperature is regulated by the thermostat dial that you can see in the bottom left hand corner. There are still solid-fuel Agas around which don’t have the thermostat dial and need to have the heat manually maintained, but having the thermostat does make life a lot easier! This burner is the part that needs servicing as the oil turns to coke in the pipe after a while and it gets blocked. I always know when my Aga needs servicing because it turns itself off – not always very helpful if I’m not expecting it! Luckily, we’ve got a great engineer who can usually get out to me quite quickly. I bought a pressure cooker a few years ago for just these occasions so we will have casseroles and soups for the day or two before the Aga is turned on again.
Once the Aga is cold, it’s easy to get in and give it a scrub. As you can imagine, no matter how careful you are at wiping up spills, there is still grease that gets baked onto the enamel, and the inside of the doors are usually in need of a clean as well. The doors come right off which makes it so much easier to get around the edges. Because it’s only grease, I use washing up liquid and a sponge scourer and they’re shiny again in no time.
This is what I use on the rest of the enamel: Astonish paste and this nifty little scraper which removes the burnt-on grease without scratching. I wasn’t convinced about it at first, but once a lady at an Aga shop showed it to me and I realised it wasn’t going to damage my beloved Aga, I found that it did indeed make light work of the cleaning!
Cleaning the lids is my favourite part because they come up so beautifully shiny. They’re made of stainless steel so I just use a damp soapy cloth to clean them. For day-to-day use, I have towelling pads which sit on the lids to help keep the heat in and also to stop them getting scratched.
The left hand hotplate is called the boiling plate. It’s right above the burner so it’s the hottest part of the Aga. It brings pans and kettles to the boil very quickly and makes fabulous toast. The right hand hotplate is called the simmering plate. It’s cooler than the boiling plate and ideal heat for making Scotch pancakes. I have a piece of non-stick parchment called Bake-o-glide which is cut to the right shape for various Aga tins including the simmering plate. This means that I can cook straight onto the hotplate without worrying about the mess. It’s brilliant for frying eggs without any fat – we call them flat eggs because they’re not actually fried at all!
The two ovens are both the same size. The heat range goes from grilling heat at the top of the top (roasting) oven to cool enough to cook meringues at the bottom of the bottom (simmering) oven. To get the temperature that you need, you simply move the grid shelves up and down on the runners that you can see along the side of the oven. It’s a different way of cooking but is fine once you get used to it. I still get it wrong sometimes, even after all the years I’ve been using my Aga! The temperature of the ovens can vary as well, especially if you’ve had the hotplate lids open for a while as the Aga loses a lot of heat from the hotplates. If I’m cooking vegetables, I bring them to the boil on the boiling plate and then put the pan into the oven to conserve the heat. The oven goes about about 50cm so you can put a few pans in there – Aga even sell pans which have the handle set down into the lid so that you can stack them and save even more space.
The best thing about the ovens is that you never need to clean them. As they’re constantly hot, anything that gets spilt in there is quickly incinerated – the ultimate in self-cleaning ovens!
I mentioned that Agas can lose heat which will affect where you might position your grid shelves. This is the thermometer which tells you how the heat is doing. You can’t see so well in this picture, but it’s a mercury thermometer and the ideal is for the mercury to sit on that black line in the white section. Once you’ve been cooking with an Aga for a while, it’s quite easy to gauge how well your oven is performing and whether you need to adjust the cooking time. Once you’ve set the thermostat, the mercury will always return to the temperature that you’ve set – unless there’s a problem or the Aga needs a service.
And that’s about it! There really isn’t very much to an Aga; it’s a very simple principle and works very effectively. Once the engineer’s been, it takes about five hours for the Aga to get back up to temperature and for life to get back to normal again. The dog is very pleased to have his bed back in his cosy spot and the whole house feels warmer, even though the Aga doesn’t affect the heating.
Fancy a brew, anyone?
It’s Friday so of course I’m joining in with Planet Penny’s Happy Friday. Does my Aga make me happy? Just a little bit J.