Recently I met one of the oldest working Aga range cookers in the land (possibly the world, but who can say). Installed in 1938, it has chugged through eight decades in the same Devon family, producing countless roasts, bakes and vats of marmalade. There are also tales of hatching goose eggs in the warming oven and leaving a flat pan of milk on the cover overnight, before skimming off the cream in the morning. One corner of the cooker top is scuffed from years of chopping onions directly on the enamel. A stalwart through the generations, it continues to be a beloved family member.
I wrote a piece about it here and received a fantastic response from fellow Aga range cooker owners who shared similar stories of adoration and long service, some of whom I have included in this piece. It appears the trusted stove is so much more than just a cooker, but then we knew that already. And in an unsettling time, with further uncertainty ahead, it is reassuring to know there are some things we can always rely on. Lisa is a relatively recent range cooker convert and sums up their appeal. ‘I am newly Aga range cooker obsessed after we inherited one a few years ago when we bought our barn,’ she says, ‘we had it converted to electricity and it has become central to our lives; warmth, cooking, drying clothes, bum warmer. I love it like a child!’ Well said, Lisa.
Of course, the stove is there to cook meals – I could go off on a delicious tangent about the ‘hungry gap’ dishes that work so well this month, but let’s save that for next time. It is also a vital component in the heating system for many homes. Yet, beyond these two crucial jobs, there are other significant roles the trusted workhorse plays in family life. Jackie wholeheartedly agrees, ‘we bought our Aga range cooker second hand over thirty years ago and it was worth every penny. It is first generation with dark blue enamel lids and I wouldn’t be without it. It is not just a cooker, it heats the house and provides hot water, airs the clothes and is such a comfort to lean against in cold weather, for us and the dogs.’
The warmth the Aga range cooker radiates is both welcoming, cheering and in some instances, life affirming. Like reviving new born lambs in the warming oven and hatching chicks in a draw next to the oven, just two of the animal anecdotes shared with us. I am not assuming this is a regular occurrence in the day of a range cooker owner, but it’s good to know that if you needed to save a small animal, you could. All power to the magic of the warming oven. Miranda says, ‘My boys have overnight porridge from the warmer in the morning and their teddies go in it in the evening ready for them to take to bed.’
More mundane is the subject of laundry and using the stove as an unofficial and affordable tumble dryer. My first experience of range cookers was in a rental house many years ago. While it took a few weeks to master the art of a good Sunday Roast, I was an instant success at taking damp bed linen off the washing line and drying it on the Aga range cooker, with my smalls hanging over the rail. Our Blake & Bull drying rack is the perfect way to achieve this in a neat and orderly fashion, without accidentally dipping a shirt sleeve in the tomato soup. And I am still tickled by Canda’s childhood memory of an aunt she stayed with, ‘who would come downstairs naked, to collect her underwear from their powder blue cooker. At the tender age of four, my eyes were on stalks!’
As well as warming linen and lambs, it is also good for warming loved ones. I know Matthew has shared this story before in his Blake & Bull journal, but it perfectly illustrates my point and is totally brilliant. It is the legendary tale of matronly, well-endowed Aunt Maidie, who would come back from a chilly winter walk, lift her jumper and lean over the hot plates while exclaiming ‘ah, one of life’s great pleasures’. Suddenly my hot water bottle seems less fun. My pal Alice knows exactly how Aunt Maidie felt. ‘I grew up with an old Aga range cooker and I used to sit on the hot plate lid in winter,’ she says, misty eyed, ‘and all our cats and dogs snuggled around it too. It really was the heart of the home.’ Alice’s mother was an artist and captured the happy scene in a little pencil sketch she planned to turn into an etching. Many years later, Alice has the picture up on the wall of her studio and it still makes her smile.
Recently, my neighbours were debating taking out their Aga range cooker. Concerned by rising energy costs and practical issues, they decided its days were numbered. They half-heartedly researched other options and convinced themselves this was a sensible move. One evening, after stepping over children and cats curled around the stove to cook supper, one confessed to the other how sad they felt about its impending exit and the other agreed. The cooker was saved! Now they are working out cost effective ways to progress, but the big part their Aga range cooker plays in their family life is invaluable.
As a wise friend of mine recently declared, ‘once you turn Aga range cooker, you rarely turn back.’