Aga-nomics

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My Mum has cooked on AGAs for over thirty years, and as with many AGA owners she would struggle to imagine life without one.  The AGA heats the kitchen, boils the kettle, makes the toast, cooks the food, and air dries mountains of washing.  I thawed myself out before tea (supper) on many a cold winter’s day as a child.  As an adult, I have secretly longed for an AGA for many years, but dismissed them as uneconomical, and unsuitable for urban living.

AGA is the slow-cooker of stereotypes twinned in many peoples’ minds with country kitchens, but cast your preconceptions aside and meet the AGA Total Control.  I received a hearty introduction last week courtesy of Rosie at the AGA at Divertimenti Marylebone showroom.  It was a good job we were hungry as Rosie and Giovanna demonstrated that the AGA is capable of every culinary technique, just as its designer Gustaf Dalen intended.

Dalen, a Swedish industrialist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, wanted to spare his wife the domestic drudgery of inefficient and expensive stoves.  He set out to develop a cooker that was easy to use, consistent, and efficient.  He achieved it, and 90 years on the AGA is still made in the same way.  First cast in iron at a foundry in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, the AGA then has several coats of vitreous enamel applied over three days.  This protective enamel coat ensures AGA stands the test of time.  Yes, the AGA is undoubtably an investment equivalent to a small, secondhand car, but longevity is just one of the compensations.  Voted in a BBC survey as one of the top three design icons of the 20th century, the AGA is timeless.  My Mum’s AGA has been going for over 30 years!  If and when it does reach the end of this life, it is almost completely recyclable.  AGA’s have always been made from 70% recycled materials such as guttering, gear boxes, door fittings or drain covers.

We were treated to a roast, toast, tray bake, quiche and much more.  The food was delicious and the AGA Total Control was straightforward to use.  The AGA rule of thumb is to use the ovens for anything that takes more than 8-10 minutes on the hot plate.  Root vegetables can be brought up to the boil on the hot plate, then put in the simmering oven until you are ready to eat.  Cooked in this way they can retain up to 20% more of their mineral and vitamin content, and ease the pressure of getting everything ready at the same time.

The huge ovens can fit a 13kg bird (a pretty sizeable Christmas turkey) or a stack of pans, 2X 2. The flavours don’t mix, and as cast-iron retains, and radiates heat well you can grill on the top shelf, bake in the middle and fry on the floor of the roasting oven at the same time as demonstrated by Rosie.  The radiant heat helps food to keep its moisture, texture and flavour and keeps the oven at an even temperature.

We all know that the trade-offs of fossil fuels are fracking complicated (pun absolutely intended) with high social and environmental costs of extraction, and a classic AGA does glug the oil.   AGA has models compatible with natural gas and electricity, you could even use it with micro-generated electricity.  We would be running our AGA off a renewable electricity tariff, but by way of indication the estimated weekly energy consumption for the AGA Total Control 3-oven is 35kWh a week for a cooker that is normally off and only switched on to cook, that is £4.03 a week (based on a third party estimate for a busy family using combined ovens and hot plate for 12 hours a week, AGAnomics publication, Sept 2013).  However, the choice of fuel, AGA model and usage profile will influence the running costs considerably.  For example, a 3-oven AGA running on oil will consume roughly 40 litres of oil a week, around £24 per week (see AGAnomics).  Of course, a classic oil or gas AGA that is on all the time, will take the place and energy costs of other appliances such as a kettle or toaster and radiates 1.5kWh into a room, the equivalent of a medium sized radiator, so in many AGA kitchens radiators are not needed. Even the AGA Total Control will continue to radiate heat into the room as it cools down.

For those of us that are out of the house for long periods during the day the AGA Dual Control and AGA Total Control provide the flexibility to have the AGA on and working for you when you need it, and off or ‘slumber’ when you don’t.  The 3-oven AGA Total Control has a roasting oven at 220c, baking oven at 180c and simmering oven at 120c.  The whole cooker takes an hour to get up to temperature from cold, but individual components take a lot less, especially if from the ‘slumber’ setting, for example the boiling plate takes 11 minutes from cold.  You can programme the Total Control to come on and off twice a day, morning and evening, just as you do the boiler.

It might take me a while to save up, but the AGA Total Control would be an investment I am prepared to make.

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