Sunday, 24 July 2011

AAAAAAAGA SAGA

I'm enjoying a mini break in darkest Dorset (well, Blandford Forum, to be precise, an almost perfectly extant Georgian town, the result of a fire in the 1700s and an extensive rebuilding programme masterminded by the Bastard Brothers. I kid you not.). Apart from having to contend with two dogs - and I'm not good with dogs - who bark ceaselessly just before 9am every morning when it's walkies time, I also have to face off the Aga every time I want a cup of tea or a piece of toast.

I've blogged, and grumbled, before about the Aga. For someone in possession of a 6-burnergas hob atop a professional-style modern range oven, I find the Aga quirky and unsophisticated to cook on. It has only two 'settings': hot and not hot. It loses heat very quickly if one of its lids is left up, and if someone has been using the hot plate before you, you have to wait at least an hour for it to heat up again, just to make a cup of tea. Making toast is a feat in itself: turn your back on it, and it's scorched beyond recognition before you know it. Then you have to prise the burnt offering off the bespoke Aga toasting rack. I usually resort to bashing it with a wooden spoon or picking away at it with a knife.....

People who own Agas absolutely love them, and rave about them, to the point that I wonder if they are simply trying to justify the expense of buying and owning one. "Ooh they are wonderful for slow-cooking" Aga owners croon. Yes, but how about a stir-fry or a flash-fried steak? Their comforting heat and attractive retro look are also much vaunted. In my parents-in-law's previous house, a large, rambling and generally very draughty 17th century farm house, the Aga was a focal point: come back from a cold, wet dog walk and hitch your bum on the Aga rail while you warm up and dry out. Four of us could comfortably loll against the Aga rail. It was also the place where family announcements were made: "hatchings, matchings and despatchings", as my grandfather used to say. Although I actually announced my engagement in front of the (equally hot) Yotel fire, while my parents in law were watching 'Murders in the Rue Morgue' (some bodies had just been discovered up a chimney at that fateful moment).

A few years ago, on holiday on the Balmoral estate thanks to a friend with Royal connections, I had to endure a week cooking on a Rayburn, a sort of cousin to the Aga. It was very old and very quirky, and had only an extremely hot setting and OFF. It took me and the other guest who had volunteered/been volunteered to cook several days to get the hang of the thing, and then it would still catch us out. We did, however, produce a procession of fine meals for 12, from my West African Groundnut Curry to Nick's famous Sausage Casserole. We also made pizzas and cakes, and by the end of the week, I was quite sorry to say goodbye to the Rayburn.

I think if I had to live with an Aga full time, I would probably be able to adapt my cooking style and tastes to suit it, and eventually we might rub along quite happily. But in general it just frustrates me with its lack of refinement. Nor could I live off slow-cooked food forever (much as I like it, especially in the winter). Fortunately, one of the stipulations of my mini break is that I don't have to do much cooking (beyond suggesting dishes and occasionally assembling them), and so I have left the Aga's mistress in charge of its dubious charms - and am enjoying some delicious slow-cooked food as a result......

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