Definition of an Aga Saga –a genre of literature that portrays a story of British middle class life whether in a village or rural setting complete with dogs, wellington boots and of course, the Aga cooker.
I’ve always wanted to write an Aga Saga but One, Myddylton Place’s blog will have to suffice, for the time being at any rate. I’ve always viewed Julia’s love of all things Aga as rather suspect to say the least; in truth I have almost viewed it as a character flaw in my best friend; one much akin to dabbling in the dark arts – Snape may indeed be her middle name. How have I come to form such a view? I’ve never personally cooked on an Aga, with an Aga – what is the correct term here, which, of course, puts me at a complete disadvantage when in Myddylton Place’s kitchen.
Julia and Emma refer to me as Daisy, as in the downtrodden kitchen maid from Downton Abbey; though I prefer to see myself as Lady Sybil, practical and always ready to have a go; no, not dead. In my desperate attempt at being useful,however, I stick to what I know I can actually do without creating too much of a commotion and that is to see to the copious amounts of washing up that those two produce while creating staggering amounts of delicious food. In other words I absolutely refuse to go anywhere near that Aga even if it can ‘”iron” your clothes for you – wouldn’t mind though a pair of warm socks and knickers being up there in the top floor of the house on my next visit.
To compound things the new Aga is a five door monster, dominating the kitchen with its throbbing heat. At least the one back at Home Farm only had three doors to contend with and was therefore not quite so intimidating. My only memory of it being that of Tony marching into the kitchen one evening and enquiring of Julia “do you have something in the oven?” Bit of a personal question I know, but the reaction he got was quite dramatic; Julia flinging one of the doors wide open and dragging out a blackened piece of charcoal that was meant to be a cake for tomorrow night’s WI meeting. Aga’s then can deliberately conceal the fact that the cook is burning something; all cooking smells apparently disappearing up and away out of the flue Mary Poppins style, which is why Tony on getting out of the car had sniffed out a problem. You can’t help but dislike a device that deliberately withholds such vital information from its owner.
I know I’m just being pathetic here but is anyone else simply terrified by these cast iron Leviathan’s of the kitchen? What are all those doors for anyway? In readiness for my next visit over to Myddylton Place I decided that I would familiarize myself with the Aga so that next time Julia or Emma asked me to take something out of the oven, instead of my eyes twitching nervously from one door to another in a blind panic, I would confidently take hold of the correct door knowing that this would be the baking oven. While we’re on that subject- why the hell don’t they have proper handles – is it just me or do you have to wrench them around to the correct angle and lift just to get them open all while wearing an oven glove, let alone get the cooking out? I mean really -we’ve moved on from there surely- I’m exhausted even before I extract the said cooking, what with wasting valuable time working out which oven it is in and then negotiating the opening of the door. My cooker at home, for what it is, has a large stainless steel handle that remains cool and I know which oven the cooking is in because it’s the only one.
With me so far, I thought you might be. I knew I was in for trouble when Julia first took me around Myddylton Place during the house’s lengthy restoration. Having introduced me to a very charming chap who was groveling around on his knees fitting a beautiful, new brick floor, in what was to be their kitchen; Julia swept aside a large piece of industrial cardboard with immense flourish and pride and said, ”this is the Aga”. Had Kate Middleton been standing in the room she would not have got a more enthusiastic introduction and in fact would probably have been quite overlooked. “Oh it’s beautiful” I lied, thinking “oh my God it’s got five wretched doors this time – how many doors does any one person need?” The Aga was cream in colour, solid as only an Aga can be and completely terrifying.
So back to my research; where did these ovens come from anyway? Actually, this emblem of Britishness was in fact invented by a blind, Nobel award winning, Swedish physicist called Dr Gustav Dalen, who apparently was trying to improve upon the lives of his poor wife, Elma and their maid, by inventing a range that would look after itself. I’m not going to comment on the obvious here but not a cook you may note; no, more likely he was probably just some poor bloke sick of not getting his dinner on time.
Dr Dalen was in fact awarded the Nobel prize for his works on automating lighthouses, which I think is a far more commendable achievement than scaring the living daylights out of weekend guests for decades to come when faced with a large piece of cast iron called an Aga. In the year 2000 his design was considered by the BBC, who lets face it do know a thing or two, to be one of only three other top designs of the century; the other two being the Coca-Cola bottle and the VW Beetle. Indeed, even its instruction booklet, written in the 1920s’, was described by Fortune Magazine as the “finest instruction manual ever written.” I know that’s difficult to believe seeing as the male of the species never seems to consult an instruction booklet let alone write one; even if that piece of knock down furniture he is working on is proving rather difficult – no impossible to put together. “Besides which most of it is written in Spanish anyway – so what’s the point” you hear him snap.
As you know by now I love to throw in a small snippet of information during these blogs that makes you say,” Good Lord, I didn’t know that “ – so here it is dear reader. Did you know – (I say that knowing full well you don’t) that in 1934 sixteen members of the Graham Land Expedition Team took an Aga to the Antarctic and used it for three whole years ‘for cooking, heat and comfort ‘ while -40C temperatures whistled all around them? Now the comfort bit I do understand, being a self confessed Aga hugger when temperatures dip in the house; but really, they dragged an Aga across the ice – what were they thinking? Was noone concerned that they’d all end up plunging through the ice to a freezing, watery death. I know, I know, I write this sitting in an area of the USA where they think nothing of driving trucks across the ice to do a spot of fishing but even so it still seems a little excessive to me. One can only presume that they knew what all the little doors were for and considered the risk worthwhile.
Second interesting fact: the waiting list for an Aga rose to a ridiculous 27 weeks during the Second World War – why you may ask? Their popularity rose incredibly during this time due to their placement in canteens in both munitions works and hospitals. Didn’t know that I hear you say.
Third interesting fact – and we’re back to those doors again. An Aga features in the long running BBC 4 soap opera “The Archers”. In order to replicate the sound of an Aga opening and closing they had to build an actual Aga door into the studio. Clearly Mrs. Archer did not have the same problem as me in opening and closing its doors having built up a fair amount of arm muscle maneuvering livestock around – did she have livestock – no clue?Someone will no doubt tell me.
Fourth interesting fact – a bit like the Ford Motor car being only available in black; Aga ranges were, for 34 years, only available in cream which means Julia has chosen well in her choice of colour for Myddylton Place’s very own Aga Saga.
‘The Mail on Sunday’ once referred to Mary Berry, as being ‘to Aga what Pavarotti is to opera” and I feel Julia and Emma are following in her famed footsteps rather well with their own delectable culinary creations; which finally brings me to the point of this rambling piece of nonsense – I think it’s high time the Aga at Myddylton Place had a name of its very own, being an essential member of the household – apparently Beelzebub is not acceptable. I think I will persuade Julia to offer a suitable prize to the person who thinks up the most appropriate, witty and printable name – maybe a Vintage Tea for two. Watch this space.
Me however, I’m off to switch on my fully automatic GE Profile Oven feeling rather relieved as it whirrs into life without too much ado but also with maybe just a little hint of jealousy on my part knowing it is never going to do the ironing for me however much I stare at it. One thing I will guarantee Myddylton Place’s Mini Me will not be having an Aga – if you don’t understand that comment than keep reading future blogs.
For all things Aga please go to www.aga-ranges.com where you may drool over the beautiful colours that these ranges come in but also follow their very own blog entitled ‘The world according to Lady Aga’. Hmm maybe I need a sexier name for our blog.
A very big thank you to Aga Ranges for all their fascinating facts, figures and for the use of two of their historic photographs.
Deb, the author, continues to be trapped in the Chicago suburbs with temperatures still at an icy minus 6C and could desperately do with a large Aga to cuddle up to ; failing that Daniel Craig will do nicely.