Aga Goodies

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It feels like this year is just galloping away from us! With my preggie brain, I am struggling to keep up with things and feel torn in a hundred different directions. In the next three months we have to host our 3rd annual Vastrap Boran auction (14 August), finish the building work that we are doing on the new baby room, attend various other auctions around the country, whilst at the same time trying to make sure that I don’t have any final stage complications in my pregnancy like we did last time. The only sure way of achieving this is to put my feet up, but there’s not much chance of that happening with an 18 month old toddler making mischief around the house and demanding her mommy’s attention!

It doesn’t help that we’ve been away from home a lot this year and every time we get back there’s an adjustment phase to get back into routine. I really can’t complain though. We had a lovely trip to the UK recently. Livia and I tagged along for the ride, while Quentin joined some friends on a week long golf tour. We had a fantastic time in London and visited a friend and my God-daughter Daisy, near the sea in West Sussex. It was a real treat to relax and enjoy some warmer weather whilst doing fun things with Livia.

I bought some fabulous accessories for the Aga in London. An old Aga like ours doesn’t have all the cooking attachments that the new ones have. I didn’t even realise this until I saw them at another friend’s house. The most useful thing I got was a cooking grid that slides into the Aga runners so that you don’t have to cook straight on the solid bottom plate of the oven. There is also a shelf that slides in to make the oven a bit cooler and more suitable for cooking when the fire is burning really hot. I also love the oven gloves and chef’s pad that protects the chrome top of the Aga stove. It is so useful and totally solves the problem of where to put hot things when moving them from the stove to the oven or from the hot plate to the cool plate. I wanted to get the baking trays that slide into the oven runners, but there wasn’t enough space in my luggage!

I made some enquiries when I got home to see if these things are available from the Aga agent locally. The full catalogue is here –> AGA Cookshop Spring Summer 2015 or click on the link for the local Aga Living website. They don’t stock the full range, but if you’re willing to wait for the next container load you can do a special order. I really would highly recommend the textiles and simple accessories for those wanting to make their old anthracite Aga’s more user friendly. 2015-07-03_0001 2015-07-03_00022015-07-03_00032015-07-03_0005

Lighting the AGA

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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.]

Aga 010Second, rinse the anthracite before using it as this will minimise the soot deposit on your kitchen cupboards. We had hardly any last year so I think it really does make a difference.

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.]

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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.

Aga 027I would love to hear from anyone with more tips and tricks on how to use the AGA!