Friday, September 04, 2009

Aga toast

I grew up in an old English weatherboarded house in the country that had an Aga, a very particular kind of huge British double oven & stove range, which also heated all our hot water. It was useful in lots of ways. Made of cast iron, it radiated heat throughout the downstairs during the winter, and was hot enough to dry wet outer things, and defrost dishes of food on the back behind the hotplates.

There was a metal bar for tea towels along its length that was the perfect height for doing ballet exercises. The bottom oven was a warm chamber for cooking slow dishes over night, drying out meringues, and warming up sock lambs that had been abandoned in cold fields by their mothers overnight (We didn't do this, obviously, but it was common practice.)

The Aga top oven makes perfect bread, brilliant pizza and well, anything my mother brought put of it was glorious.

But most of all I loved the two circular always-on hotplates, which were covered by heavy pull-up domes which kept the heat in and little fingers out. If you wanted to boil water, you needed to use a special Aga kettle, and they were also particularly brilliant for making toast in special wire racks that left criss cross marks on the bread. There's a lovely scorchy taste, but the inside stays moist. An Aga really does make perfect toast. It's the taste of my childhood.

Last week I went to Rose's funeral in Leicestershire. She was the only person I knew who still had a proper kitchen range, and at the wonderful house parties at Home Farm, hosted by her and by her children Nick & Suze, we used to make piles of buttery toast in the morning, which was usually eaten with marmalade as we attempted to battle hangovers from long evenings drinking port around the silver laden mahogany dining table.

At her new house she had had an Aga installed, and the morning after the funeral I made buttery toast for everyone as we gathered in fits & starts in the new kitchen for breakfast. And silently thought of her.

Aga toast