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Guest spot: In praise of the Aga by Chris Nelms

A 4 door AgaChris and Louise live in Wiltshire and are proud possessors of an Aga. We don’t have one, sadly, and are extremely envious. An Aga tends to be the hub of most happy houses that we visit. Our long term plans are to install one. When Chris wrote to me and described making friends with his Aga, I knew that it would be of interest.

Danny, a romantic, has dubbed it a love story.

Guest spot: In praise of the Aga by Chris Nelms

Louise and I were fortunate to inherit a nearly new four-oven oil-burning Aga when we bought this house. We had no experience of Agas and no friends with Agas. I trawled the Aga website for information; it was strong on sales blurb but weak on what it’s actually like to live with one.

In an act of cowardice, we splashed out on a matching Aga Companion electric cooker, expecting to cook with this rather than the scary Aga. After all, Agas have no knobs to control the heat so how could any serious chef cook on such a primitive appliance?

How wrong we were. Within weeks we were converts. The electric cooker has been used only once in seven years. The faithful Aga has won a place in our hearts and we cannot imagine life without it.

Unlike some Aga owners, we leave ours burning throughout the year. In winter, its cosy warmth makes the kitchen the natural centre of our home. The heat spreads surprisingly well through the house and we suspect it earns its keep by saving on heating bills. Just as well because it burns about 8 litres of heating oil a day or ?900 a year. Quite an expense for what is essentially just a cooking appliance.

I found an ex-Aga engineer on the internet selling detailed servicing instructions and do my own annual servicing in 20 minutes, saving ?100.

So what’s it like? Well cooking with an Aga is simplicity itself. The absence of knobs makes life easier, not harder. Louise has progressed from being a fairly good cook into a veritable kitchen goddess. Delicious meals emerge from the Aga every evening without fail. The weekend shift is mine.

It’s just so forgiving. Synchronizing different components of a meal used to be challenging but now, with a warming oven and a simmering oven as well as the main baking and roasting ovens, any food that’s ready too soon can be parked without spoiling until required. Rare steaks can be rested, plates warmed, etc.

A full English breakfast or traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings is easy and fun. Cooking for guests is no longer stressful. Aga toast is better than from any toaster, dough proves perfectly on the warming plate, beer and wine ferment nearby, damp clothes dry on the front rail, children’s pyjamas warm before bedtime.

Arriving home after a day out, the Aga is instantly ready for action with no waiting for an oven to heat.

Disadvantages? Very few. In the height of summer we get a few more flies coming into the kitchen, and a prolonged cooking stint leaves one rather hot. The cooking smells go up the chimney rather than into the kitchen so a forgetful cook can easily be unaware that something in the oven is burning.

Otherwise it’s just a matter of environmental conscience: an Aga is an extravagance, burning fossil fuel around the clock. We offset the guilt in this household by heating the remainder of the house with three wood burning stoves.

At the risk of sounding over-dramatic, owning an Aga is a life-changing experience. Anyone who loves food and cooking will never look back. If in doubt buy a few books by Aga cookery experts such as Louise Walker and Mary Berry and read what they say. Get one if you possibly can and, ideally, invest in a four-oven model. You will not regret it.

Rather as a lover of wood fires wouldn’t contemplate life in a house without a chimney, an Aga convert couldn’t imagine a kitchen without an Aga.

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  1. Renaud in Brittany

    I have a 60’s coal AGA, 2 oven to sell to a good home. It is to be collected in Brittany (France) though.

  2. I’ve just rebuilt, from the base up, a pre ’74, solid fuel, 2 oven Aga bought off ebay for £250. It arrived on a huge pallet as pile of cast iron shapes. A bit daunting but it now sits in my kitchen warming the whole cottage whilst heating gallons of hot water and running an old fashioned chrome towel radiator in the bathroom. I no longer use my electric cooker, kettle or toaster and the Aga does all of this for £10 worth of anthracite a week. Ashpan is emptied in the morning then it’s riddled and topped up with fuel with the process repeated before retiring to my bed. Ordinary coal would burn too hot, too quickly and produce masses of soot.

  3. HI,
    Have restored a s/f 1950’s aga that works beautifully – just one question ….. just HOW bad is it if to switch to ordinary coal like we use for the other fire???

  4. angela reid

    I have a 4 oven aga with some hot water. It was heated by LPG until I turned it off because of prohibitive costs. I loved my AGA and miss it. I wonder if it could be converted to wood burning.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Angela

      I’ve heard of these conversions being done in Sweden so it must be possible. Why not ring Aga.

      • Conversion kits can be bought in Australia. I’ve run my AGA on firewood very successfully for years. Read the whole story on my blog, and make sure you go to the wood conversion page where a comment from a handy Tasmanian explains how he converted his without buying an expensive kit…

  5. Hello,
    I have a two ovens coal AGA to sell for a good home. It was my parent’s home cooker.
    Can be converted to another fuel.
    I would accept around £ 1800 o.n.o

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sir Francis

    Thanks for all this information and so many tips. Much appreciated!

    I’d love an AGA.

  7. Sir Francis

    We have had two Agas running on solid fuel: yes, there’s dust and ash. When you lift the filler-plug to re-fuel, you get a strong convection current that carries particles of ash upwards, and smaller particles of the fuel itself, and gives everywhere in the kitchen a good blast of sulphur; when, each day, you empty the ash-pan, just as you open the back-door, there’s always a sudden gust waiting to flurry hot, stinging debris up your nose and into your eyes – and to carry quite a lot back behind you, into the kitchen. The solid-fuel Aga was,I believe, really made to run on ‘Gas Coke No.2’, when coke from your local gasworks was plentiful and comparatively cheap: we used half-and-half ‘Sunbrite’ or some such coke and anthracite/Phurnacite etc. At one time, our local coal-merhcant in Cornwall even supplied us with a German anthracite briquette which, had the letter ‘U’ impressed on each, so was known locally as ‘U-Boat fuel’.
    Dirty, suffered from the wind (when a gale was blowing, I had to get up in the night when the water-tank was boiling, and run off gallons of hot water, to cool the thing down). Lighting them – after we’d been away – was a bit of a cussing and blinding process for several years, until we discovered Barbecue charcoal: screw up several rolls of newspaper and drop down the plug-hole; slip down on top a small handful of kindling; shovel in two or three good handfuls of charcoal; put the filler-plug in remembering to reverse the plug in the simmering-spot – to increase the draught, but keep the smoke out of the kitchen; get down on your knees, and use a taper to light the newspaper. With luck (and a following wind) after quarter of an hour or so you will be able to slide in your first quarter-hod of fuel. The kitchen will now have a curious blend of scents – dusty, smoky, sulphury, and sweet; when you come to put the simmering-plug the right way in, it’ll be wet as well as blackened. Meantime, an imperceptible warmth will have begun to creep into not only the kitchen, but the house, as the smoke warms the chimney, and the chimney warms that end of the house.
    We then moved to somewhere else in Cornwall where the resident Aga had been converted to oil – and was useless (we had to buy an electric oven for things like Yorkshire puddings, crisp potatoes, steaks – until shortly before we moved, when a local Aga man, called out in an emergency, found that the oil-conversion had been set up wrongly in the first place.
    Another Aga we had, in Sussex, had to be re-installed, the first installer having cut all the corners possible, one being the notoriously tough bolt that should clamp the heat transfer-plate tightly to the bottom of the roasting oven. It then worked quite well for a year or so, until one morning the riddling-tool jammed, and there was a clunk: the bottom part of the casting had come away (in s/f Agas, the barrel that holds the fuel has to be robust to take not only all that intense heat, but the rattling of all that Anthracite: at some stage,as an economy, only the lower part of the casting was made of a high-chrome metal, the topping-up being of ordinary cast-iron: where the two molten metals met, often a film would have developed, making an imperfect join.
    We lived with our first Aga for nearly seven years, and it did not kill us: the unpleasant fumes it emitted were no worse than…well, ever had a Curry? In our ignorance, we never had it ‘serviced’: once a month, I used the tools to scrape out and down the deposits, and once a month, used the tool to give the ‘hot-spot’ its to-and-fro movement followed by its quarter-turn.
    Wonderful machines that extract so much heat from the fire that, in the splendid Mr. Hiscock’s words ‘the gases are so cool, they can hardly climb up the chimney’with a simmering oven perfect for Meringues to be left in, a roasting oven to do justice to a huge rib of beef or a vast Goose…
    Wonderful machines AND, almost incredibly, designed by a blind man – who just happened to be a Nobel Prize winner. Do a Google on Gustav Dahlen!

  8. grunzle

    Hello All !
    I’ve enjoyed reading all these postings. For some time now, I’ve owned a vintage cream AGA CB (2 oven model which in its’ day produced hot water ). It has to be around 55 years old or more.
    As yet, my cooker has not been installed (I have it stored) but it’s always been one of my ambitions to have it refurbished and working once again. I just bought it some years ago, and had it moved VERY carefully to our house.(Cheshire / UK)
    I know that we’ll have to get the Aga stripped and renovated, the insulation checked, maybe the lids re-enamelled, the ovens shot-blasted etc in other words, a real overhaul !!

    I am now getting much closer to proceeding with my plans, and whilst various people have said that in this day and age, solid fuel’s not a practical nor environmentally friendly / safe option….I still rather like the idea of eventually having the cooker up and running as a solid fuel aga…as it was intended to be , rather than having it converted…maybe if we did not get along too well with solid fuel, then, it would be appropriate to rethink our position.
    If it’s of any use, I am used to open / real fires, and always have one from the Autumn onwards until late Spring each year.

    So, what do you all think ? Any suggestions would be appreciated.
    I have heard that Anthracite as a fuel can be rather messy (ash) and give off unpleasant and dangerous fumes.Is this so ? I know that there are various types of Fuel which are suggested for running a solid fuel aga on…Ancit, Taybrite etc.

    It would be really great to hear from any of you who are running your aga’s on Solid Fuel, and to learn of your experiences, and indeed what life’s like with a solid fuel aga.
    I’ll hopefully hear from some of you.
    Many thanks in advance !

  9. Hello,
    I have a two ovens coal AGA to sell for a good home.
    Can be converted to another fuel.

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