People who own Agas absolutely ADORE them! They will tell you endlessly how useful an Aga is, as a cooking device, a heater, a place to dry knickers and a nifty means of reviving newborn lambs and kittens. Agas are often described as "the heart of the kitchen/home/family" and seem to elicit a certain reverence in owners and fans for their womb-like qualities. True, they can bring comfort and warmth to an otherwise draughty Dorset farmhouse (I should know; I used to stay in one on a regular basis), but I cannot understand their much-vaunted cooking abilities. To my mind, an Aga is just HOT or NOT HOT. If you boil a kettle for your morning tea, you must then let said device heat up again sufficiently to make toast (which has to be done with a strange wire contraption, to which the toast inevitable sticks and has to be dislodged by hitting it violently with a wooden spoon). You cannot do flash-frying, or indeed any other cooking technique which require anything more than rudimentary finessing. Yes, an Aga makes a great casserole, but it does so without subtlety.

My mother-in-law has always had an Aga, and when she lived in the big draughty Dorset farmhouse, it really was the centre of the house. It was the place you went to warm up after a long walk with the dogs, hitching your buttocks against the rail, and allowing the heat to seep into your cold limbs. It was also the place where announcements were made: engagements, marriages, forthcoming babies, drugs busts by the police.

I never really enjoy cooking on the Aga, because - see above - of its lack of subtlety. My reservations about its capabilities were more than borne out one dread Christmas when the wretched thing broke down. We arrived with our young son to find the Aga belching noxious black fumes around the house. It was quite clear there was something seriously wrong with it, but father-in- law denied that there was and staunchly stuck to his guns, saying it would be fine. In the meantime, I rushed to the nearest M&S to buy ready meals in case Christmas dinner could not be cooked, only to find that there was no microwave as a back up means of cooking. Christmas dinner that year was made in an electric frying pan. That was the same year that I lost a very precious earring between the floorboards, and cursed old country houses and their draughty and gappy floors. After that, it became a condition of our going to stay that the Aga was serviced prior to Christmas.


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