One of the very first things I blogged about almost a year ago was our beautiful AGA stove, which was lovingly restored as part of our renovations (see The magic of AGA). It is a very old anthracite stove so requires quite a bit of tinkering and attention to keep it running properly through the winter. I can get terribly distracted by it, lifting the chrome lids every time I walk past to check if the fire is still burning hot. When the kettle takes a bit longer to boil, I know it’s time to stoke it up!
With a cold front moving through our region this weekend I decided to light it yesterday. My neighbour Jenny is resisting lighting hers because she says that’s the surest sign that winter has arrived and the longer she can hold out the better. For me it’s all part of embracing winter and the slower pace of life it brings. I love the late afternoon ritual of closing all the curtains, getting a roaring fire going, stoking up the AGA and getting slow cooked supper in the oven. Of course our animals love it too, especially Poepsie cat!
I’ve had some questions about how I light my AGA. Newer AGA’s are generally oil or gas run, which must be a lot easier to maintain. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of information about the anthracite versions on the Internet so I will share my experience in the hope that it will help someone.
First, make sure the stove is regularly serviced to keep it and the chimney clean. It will be much harder to keep the fire going if the stove does not draw properly. Our chimney is hidden behind pieces of old pressed ceiling which we can remove easily to sort out any problems. I only scraped out a handful of grime so it still looks okay. [Note: After three winters of full time use I gave the Aga a more thorough clean by opening up the connection to the chimney and cleaning it out. At first we were very puzzled about how to get the grime out, but then Quentin had the bright idea of using the vacuum cleaner. It worked like a charm! We sucked up loads of anthracite residue and I’m sure this will help to keep the fire drawing nicely.]
Third, anthracite is very hard to light so you either need to get some red hot coals going outside using a fire starter canister or you can start the anthracite in the stove using a gas flame. I prefer the latter method, because it’s so much easier especially when the weather is foul outside. Also, it’s much easier to restart the fire if it goes out. There is nothing worse than being in constant fear of the fire going out and having to scoop the cold anthracite out by hand! I have a gas bottle with a hose connector and metal rod attachment on the end. I simply stick it in the bottom of the stove and leave it until the anthracite is lit. It works like a dream and gives one so much more flexibility. It can take a good 30 minutes to get things going the first time so just be patient. It’s worth having a torch on hand to look into the drum if you aren’t sure if it’s lit. There must be a good red glow otherwise it won’t work! [Note: don’t be too sparing with your anthracite. You need to fill the fire box up completely and top up the coals twice a day if you want the fire to go 24/7. If you add anthracite at the wrong time when the coals are too low this will just kill the fire. It feels like you are going through a lot of fuel in the beginning, but it soon stabilises out and you also get a more constant stove and oven temperature.]
Fourth, don’t expect it to be hot immediately. It takes quite a long time to heat up properly. I lit mine in the early afternoon and it was perfect by the next morning when Poepsie cat had taken up her position for the winter and I was able to boil the kettle for my morning cup of Rooibos tea. When the coals are glowing red hot top up the drum with anthracite. Be careful to use the right tools so that you don’t burn yourself! Also, keep a metal bucket on hand to scrape out the ash once or twice a day.