Magazine article The Spectator

Warm Inside

Magazine article The Spectator

Warm Inside

Article excerpt

Like the Hoover and the Biro, the Aga is one of that rare breed of gadget whose name has become synonymous with the whole species.

Unlike the vacuum cleaner and the ballpoint pen, however, the stored-heat cooking system, regardless of whether it be fuelled by gas, oil, kerosene, electricity or - a recent addition - biofuel, is an extraordinarily inefficient one.

Designed by a Swede and beloved of posher Anglo-Saxons everywhere, an Aga is, nonetheless, more a way of life than just a stove, and their owners don't seem to mind. For there is more to their contraption than mere synecdoche, even having a sub-sub-genre of literature named after it. They seem to become a member of the family.

There isn't a stored-heat cooker in my family at the moment - it would be, at the very least, unneighbourly if half a ton or so of iron were to crash into downstairs's kitchen - but my early life was spent within crawling distance of one. It was, in fact, an Esse (although everybody called it the Rayburn, the British make subsequently acquired by Aga).

Later, it was more than a way of life for the offspring of our pet rabbits: their day-long lives were spent in a box on the top of it and they were invariably dead by the time we got home from school. For animals notorious for the promiscuity of their breeding habits, baby rabbits seem to be less than robust. Or maybe they were just drowsily frying. I don't think our parents felt in need of many more of them.

Caroline Tower, a 20-year devotee, has had better luck incubating newborn lambs and ducklings in the plate-warming oven. She points out that her Aga also heats her (unusually large) kitchen very effectively and they can also do odd jobs like quick-drying clothes on top. Only in the slovenlier households, of course. Or when nobody else is around.

There are two-, three- and four-oven versions, all of which have two hotplates, the one above the heat source being the 'boiling plate' and the other the 'simmering plate'. …

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