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The Cozy Comforts of an AGA Cooker

The Cozy Comforts of an AGA Cooker

The swimming pools have closed, the kids are back in school, and the days are getting shorter. That means it’s almost time to start dishing up soups, stews, casseroles, and other cold weather comfort foods. Thinking about colder weather reminds me of one of my favorite things in a traditional British kitchen: the Aga cooker. Plate racks, big Belfast sinks, farmhouse tables, bread bins, and colorful tea towels are all elements of the classic British kitchen, but perhaps the single most important element is an Aga.

I remember being mystified by references to Agas in the English novels I read when I was growing up. It seemed like this magical kitchen appliance was used for everything from cooking to keeping plates and food warm to heating houses and water. It sounded so different from the stoves in American kitchens!

What’s an Aga Cooker?

So, what exactly is an Aga? It’s a cast iron, enamel-coated, heat-storage cooker with multiple ovens and hotplates that let you do almost every kind of cooking at the same time. According to Wikipedia, it “works on the principle that a heavy frame made of cast iron can absorb heat from a relatively low-intensity but continuously burning source, and the accumulated heat can then be used for cooking.”

Whew!

Although it’s often thought of as a quintessentially English brand, the Aga (or AGA) was invented by a Nobel Prize-winning Swedish physicist named Gustaf Dalén in 1922. This multi-tasking marvel is designed to simultaneously roast, grill, bake, steam, boil, simmer, slow-cook, toast, and warm food, thanks to its multiple ovens (there are two- to five-oven versions) and to the boiling and simmering plates on top of the cooker. An Aga can even provide enough heat to power several radiators. Needless to say, there’s definitely an acquired knack to using the various heating chambers and cooking plates. Agas are expensive, but they last for years. If one does break down, it can be reconditioned and it will probably work for another four or five decades!

Today’s Aga Cookers

Modern Agas look much the same as they did in 1922 and still operate on the same basic heat-storage principal. However, underneath their gleaming exteriors, they’re quite different. Traditionally, Agas were coal or oil-fueled. Today’s models are powered by a variety of fuel sources, including gas and electricity. In fact, electric models are now the company’s best sellers. The classic Aga cooker is always “on,” which was a key selling point for many years, but you can switch the new programmable models off and on like a regular stove. Modern Agas are also more colorful than their predecessors. Originally, all Aga cookers were cream. Cream is still the most popular color, but now they’re also available in a wide range of colors, from pastels such as rose and aqua to bold shades such as cobalt blue and fire engine red.

You can find a lot more information about these culinary wonders on the company’s UK and North American websites. There are also demonstration videos that let you see the Aga in action. Check out my Classic British Kitchens board on Pinterest for pictures of Agas in some lovely traditional kitchens. British magazines like Country Living, Country Homes & Interiors, and Period Living are also a great source for pictures. If you love to cook, you should also check out my post on Cookbooks for Anglophiles Who Love British Television.

My Own Classic Kitchen

My own kitchen has some distinctive British touches, including a bread bin, a Tetly Tea jar that I use to corral whisks and spatulas, a farmhouse table that’s appropriately battered from years of use as a homework spot and extra counter space, and classic blue willow dishes passed on to me by my husband’s grandmother. I also have a large collection of tea towels from the British Isles and from British-related sites in the U.S., although I only use a small portion of them in the kitchen. (The beautiful graphic designs seem more like works of art than utilitarian objects.)

I would love to add the ultimate British touch to my kitchen, but I’ll probably never have my own Aga. First, there’s the cost. Second, I’m sure I would have to reinforce my kitchen floor to bear the weight. I don’t see that happening anytime soon! I’ll just have to enjoy looking at them in the pictures I’ve collected on Pinterest.

Photo credit: The photo of the Aga cooker is provided courtesy of WestportWiki [CC BY-SA 3.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], Wikimedia Commons. The photo of crumpets with butter and jam was taken by the author.

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