Sunday 18 November 2007

Aga Do or Aga Don’t

What is the English obsession with Agas all about? I had never heard of an Aga before I came here and now, thanks in no small part to being deeply involved with planning a kitchen (which we have resolutely decided will be modern and not have one of these damn Aga things in it anyway), but even before this induction into the world of kitchen design I was already blown away by the sheer cultural weight in England of the mighty Aga.

The Aga, to some English at least, represents an ideal of home. Not any kind of home, but a home that is solid, enduring, classic and beautiful. But for many, it is a benchmark of unattainable wealth because it would involve acquiring a) the expensive Aga itself and b) a kitchen big enough to put it in. Personally I think they are big, curious, blocky objects that dominate a kitchen but which owners seem to think are the bee’s knees.

What, I was desperate to know, is this fabled thing – the Aga? It is, to put no finer point on it, a cooker (or to use the term I am more familiar with, it’s a stove). Physically, it is an oven, usually with two or four doors and two enormous hotplates on top with chrome lids that swivel upright. It has a ceramic coating in traditional colours of racing green, deep burgundy, cream or black. But there are new models in any number of colours with new configuration options. They take oil or solid fuel (i.e. wood) and they take the best part of 24 hours to heat up so they are generally left on all the time.

It can safely be said that Aga lovers are evangelical about their darlings. In cold wintry England they are a dream: it can heat the hot water for the whole house and radiate warmth in the kitchen making it a clothes dryer, radiator, boiler and oven in one. The oven part is also fabled. It is built for Sunday roasts and Christmas dinner. It is a monolith. If you have one or want one in your kitchen it’s the thing which you must organize everything else around. It’s the beating heart of the traditional kitchen and, oh yes, it’s expensive.

After a little internet research I discovered that despite its cultural weight, the first Aga only dates from 1929 when a Swedish physicist named Aga blew himself up. (No I lie, his name was actually Dalén – Aga stands for Aktiebolaget Gas Accumulator, if you really must know.) Dr Dalén, blinded, was recuperating at home and observing his harried wife when he decided to invent a new type of cooker.

It’s truly amazing that the Aga has survived so long and become so beloved despite all the advances in cooking technology. Lately, I have become very well acquainted with the latest in kitchen cooking appliances. You can have gas or electric or the latest steam oven or a combination microwave that can do it all. And you can go in for a hob that uses the latest induction technology, or you can opt for a wok-burner, a BBQ grill, or a flat teppanyaki hotplate (which costs a fortune, by the way).

But your Aga doesn’t have these options. Nope. The Aga doesn’t even have a temperature gauge! In fact, it is not a good idea to use the two massive hotplates at all. When the lids are hinged back off the hotplates the oven looses too much heat, so they are not used much at all, especially because you can only regulate the heat on them by balancing pots or pans half off the plates. So Aga cooking tends to be all about the oven.

The owners of Agas love how well the ovens cook saying the food doesn’t dry out like it does in gas or electric ovens. However if you forget you have something in it you might pop the door open two days later to find burnt offerings because there is no way to smell when something is burning. But Aga lovers say that this is really an advantage because any old food is automatically burnt away so it is dead easy to clean them just by brushing it out.

All this leads me to believe that to own an Aga is a lifestyle choice, like vegetarianism or Scientology – you are choosing to leave the mainstream and while others will call you bananas, there is a small band of dedicated followers who are believers just like you. And they had to buy new Aga-proof pots as well.

Indeed there are Aga websites out there with Aga recipies and woeful stories about what a pain it is to service them every four months which requires turning the precious Aga off and not having heating or cooking facilities for a minimum of 48 hours (24 hours to cool down, 24 hours to heat up again.) These Aga lovers fear a warm summer, because it makes their kitchens unbearable. (So far as I’ve been in England I think they have not much to fear on this point).

But Agas are sufficiently popular to have entered into folklore. The Aga Saga is a genre of ‘chick lit’ fiction where middle class women leading comfortable middle class lives in medium to large country-styled houses have some sort of temporary problem which leads to much mahem, a little raunchy sex and a happy ending where the heroine is finally appreciated for her true worth and her Sunday roasts.

All this has not convinced me one iota – so the first problem on my list was easily solved – my kitchen is going to be contemporary and electric. When it comes to cooking I am not a romantic – I believe in reading the instructions on the back of the packet for weekday meals and calling catering for a party. If I get creative on the weekend and actually look at a cookbook it will be one of those 15-minute wonder types of recipes which assume you have never considered anything other than electric, thanks very much.


At 19 November 2015 at 22:08 , Blogger Charles said...

Dear Ms. McCann:

You are obviously very passionate about how you feel and most obviously dislike the AGA cooker. But putting this particular point aside, what I find astonishing is the fact that you don't even like to cook! Opening a packet of commercial food and following the instructions or calling a caterer puts you in a category that baffles me. Why would you waist your time and the readers time discussing something that you hate ... cooking! Who cares that you hate cooking? And with your lack of desire and interest, what makes you think that for one minute you are even qualified to discuss intelligently or accurately any cooking instrument? No matter what implement either nostalgic or futuristic, if it can't accommodate your caterer or a packet of pre-made mixed food that item is useless to you and of no interest. So why are you even taking the time to write about something you both hate and have absolutely no expertise?

If you had used the AGA cooker and were able to intelligently discuss the pros and cons of the unit, and specific experiences than this might give you an inch of credibility, but currently you come from a place (or at least we are faced with the fact) that you are an ignorant woman who knows nothing about what she is speaking!

Of course you are entitled to your opinion, no matter how absurd and silly it is based on your complete lack of interest or expressed knowledge in cooking. You do live in the United Kingdom and I live in one of the commonwealth countries (Canada) so you are entitled to your opinion. I don't have to agree, nor you with me, but you do have the right to sate your opinion and you have done this very clearly!

Perhaps instead of waisting your time writing about something you dislike so much, you would be far better off writing about something you love! At least it would be much more enjoyable for us readers!



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