House Sitting with an AGA
My AGA Saga!
For me an AGA is up there with other British greats like thatched cottages, country pubs and cream teas. But I had never really been on first name terms with one until I ended up house sitting with an AGA.
Okay I have boiled an AGA kettle on my sister-in-law’s very posh pale blue one, but as for cooking an entire meal, no.
So rocking up to our first house sit in Devon, England and finding an AGA cooker lurking in the kitchen was quite a moment. Being an intrepid Aussie, I donned my apron, listened to the homeowner’s advice and had my sister-in-law on speed dial, just in case.
What is an AGA and what makes it wonderful?
An AGA is an English range cooker, often powered by oil or gas, but you'll also find more modern electric AGAs too. In the old days they were coal driven.
What makes an AGA so wonderful for me, it's that they are always on, and always hot. There's nothing nicer on a chilly English day than leaning back and warming yourself on the AGA. This also makes them a favourite with the animals of the family. In both of our AGA house sits the dogs have had their beds close. And of course it heats the entire kitchen making it the true centre of the home.
Hot, hotter, hottest!
Now for the fun bit, cooking on an AGA.
You cannot regulate the temperature of either the hotplates or the ovens. Yup, that’s what I said! Instead you have a "boiling plate" and a "simmering plate". You have a "roasting oven" and a "simmering oven" and on the big four oven AGAs you also have a "baking oven" and a "plate warming oven".
Don’t be, you very quickly get the hang of it.
One other point of note is that any cooking smells from the ovens disappear up the flue. So there's no telling if your meal is cooked by the smell emanating from the AGA oven. A timer or a good memory are essential to avoid cremations!
How to use an AGA - Getting started
As mentioned, my first experience was boiling a kettle on the AGA boiling plate. This is not any old kettle mind, this is a special AGA kettle. It's a fact that any old saucepans will NOT work on your AGA. You either need to invest in the special AGA range, or very good quality heavy based cookware will do. The Le Creuset cookware you got as a wedding present from your rich aunt is fine, but not your bargain range of saucepans from Tesco!
Yup, she has expensive tastes, does your AGA.
Once you have boiled your AGA kettle, made a nice cup of tea, and calmed yourself, we can move on to tackling the ovens.
I must confess I cheated here, no not my sister-in-law on speed dial, but Mary Berry’s AGA Cookbook. I found this book on the shelves of both of my AGA house sits and it quickly became my very best friend. I have never watched Mary on "The Great British Bake Off" but I am a fan, just from experiencing her wonderfully calm writing style.
One fun AGA accessory is the toaster. This looks like a large wire ping pong bat, and to make toast with it you place the bread inside it and then put it on the boiling plate and close the lid. But stay close it doesn’t take long!
My personal AGA tips
This is my own personal summary of the ovens.
To cook a roast in an AGA - (my favourite meal) use the bottom shelf of the AGA roasting oven. Let me point out here that unlike normal ovens the bottom of the oven is hotter than the top. Yes, I know, confusing. Use the top of the same oven for your roasties (potatoes). Also use this oven for Mary’s own recipe scones, they are utterly delicious.
The AGA simmering oven is ideal for finishing off casseroles you started on the boiling plate, that just needs to simmer for an hour. Or rich fruitcakes that need to cook for several hours. Likewise the simmering plate is ideal for simmering dishes you started on the boiling plate, or for dishes that require gentler heat.
I cannot tell you with great confidence how to bake a normal cake in an AGA because I haven’t attempted it. On the two oven AGA it is a complicated affair using an AGA Cake Baker. This is large saucepan with a rack on which the cake tin sits before you lower it into the saucepan, don the lid and put it in the roasting oven.
Of course if you have a four oven AGA, you will have an AGA Baking Oven especially for baking. Problem solved!
Caring for and cleaning an AGA
Here's a useful link to learn more about caring for an AGA while on a house-sit:
Protective AGA covers
These round heat proofing covers sit on top of the AGA plate covers and come in lots of different prints and styles. They are multi purpose pads ideal used for a number of uses, including a trivet to protect working surfaces, to cover dishes to retain heat, a pan grab, and to help protect the stainless steel lids of the AGA when removing hot dishes from the ovens and placing on the top.
Drying and airing clothes
One final reason to adore the AGA - it's wonderful for airing clothes. And as one of our homeowners proudly told me, if you fold your T-shirts neatly and place them on the closed lid, the creases will fall out and you won’t need to iron them! I didn’t have the heart to say after 6 months travelling in Asia, we had long given up ironing T-shirts!
Now I have mastered house sitting with an AGA, I hope that the rest of our house sits in the UK will have one so I can perfect my skills!
You'll find lots more information and instructional videos about using an AGA at:
guest post - SUZANNAH ARKLE
James and Suzannah Arkle are a couple on the wrong side of 50 who are hopelessly addicted to travel. The mere whiff of aviation fuel gets them excited. In 2017 they decided to up sticks, sell their rural property and business in Australia and travel full time. How long will that be for? Well James says three years, Suzannah says two years, so who knows!
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Last updated on February 13th, 2021