It’s Not An Aga Saga

Living in England we had solid fuel stoves, some of which also heated the house. I have never had an Aga, that mark of middle class respectability, but gather they must be sturdy beasts as Leo as a small boy watched his mother heat one up until the top was glowing dull red and then throw buckets of water over it. He was entranced as the water rose to the ceiling in bubbles….but the Aga survived.

I had a Rayburn for years….two ovens, a warming drawer and a solid top on which to slide the pans to achieve the level of heat desired while heating the house….. and then, in a larger house, a FrancoBelge which kept the house toasty on minimal fuel in winter though making the kitchen feel like the Black Hole of Calcutta in the chancy weather of spring and autumn.

In France we had a Godin….beautiful, but only good for top heat….and thus relied on an electric oven. I cannot say that it was a success.

It was top of the range at the time which in effect, meant that its technology was ahead of reality. One thunderstorm and the blighter packed up, thus requiring a visit from the installer and a large bill.

Surge plugs? It sneered at them.

I can tell you, watching your souffle sinking before your eyes is not a good experience.

The climax came when it packed up again when our supper, a hotpot, was just ready. The door would not open. Pressing this, that and possibly the other made no difference. The thing was giving the equivalent of the French shrug. It had our supper and what were we going to do about it….

Well, Leo might be Belgian but given conflict he follows the counsel of Henry V at the siege of Honfleur………

Imitate the action of the tiger:
Stiffen the sinews, conjure up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage….

So he went for the oven with a screwdriver, liberated his supper, and the blighter gave no more problems.

Moving to Costa Rica we found things in the oven line to be decidedly old hat….an oven was the thing under the burners….if you had gas burners you had a gas oven below, if electric, electric.

I have never been a fan of low level ovens…..crouching down to see what’s going on, being assailed by a blast of hot air to the eyes when opening the brute…..and once town gas was replaced by natural gas you could not even end it all by lying down with your head in the thing.

Further, one thing living in France had taught us was that you must not be dependent totally on electricity….not if you like hot food….so we needed a gas hob and an electric oven. The first was easy. The second, more of a problem.

The only suppliers at that time were high end kitchen providers, at prices in the stratosphere, so it was off to the small ads to find something secondhand. Of course, as these ovens were not common, the search took quite a time, but eventually we unearthed one, took it home and it worked for years. Until it didn’t.

Off to the workshop of the Cubano, local miracle worker with anything electrical, who warned that , as it was ‘foreign’, there might be a problem obtaining the parts…..

Panicking at the thought of oven deprivation, Leo found another one…new in the box, an unwanted present sold by a young lady whose relationship had broken down, partly, it seemed, because the gentleman concerned expected her to want to cook, whereas her view was that that was why restaurants existed. It was as well that Leo did look around as we finally received the repaired oven one year later.

More modern, lighter…it never cooked as well as old faithful and we were glad to put it in storage and restore the latter to its rightful place.

All went well until the day that it had to be moved to place its ventilation under the new extended kitchen extractor. It still worked…but it gave me an electric shock every time I touched it. No one else…just me.

Well, you can get used to anything, so I became adept at using a tea towel to open and close the door, and developed the necessary gymnastic skills to insert and remove items without touching the racks, while not burning myself. And all was well until our baker packed up.

Local taste in bread demands a touch of sweetness, which we intensely dislike, and this man made proper bread….we had been his customers for years, traveling to San Jose to buy in bulk for the freezer, but the Covid restrictions had made it impossible for him to maintain enough clients to service his bills, so, approaching retirement, he took it.

Sweet bread? No way! We — for whch read me ….would make it ourselves!

Fine…I had not made bread for years, as it was next to impossible to get strong flour in France, but I knew how to do it and once into practice it was not too bad and getting better until Leo enquired why I was baking the bread under a large cooking pot, which entailed sharp work in removing the oven rack, loaf and pot in order to remove the latter once the loaf had risen sufficiently and whack the two former back inside.

I explained that at the heat required to cook the loaf, a hard crust would form, thus reducing the amount by which the dough could rise. You could put a pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven too, but, given the electric shock problem, I did not feel up to that experiment. Then, stupidly, I added that professional ovens had steam injection to give a moist atmosphere…….

The Cubano was summoned to rectify the electric shock problem – due, by what I understood of the language used, to the idiots who had moved the thing….and all continued on its diurnal round.

Until a week later when Higher Authority emerged from his office to announce that he had the solution.

A proper bread oven.

He had found it on offer from the onlne store of one of the major white goods firms. We would buy it. It would produce good bread.

Duly bought, the oven arrived at our local store

However, on unpacking it there were two problems.

A. The plug was not compatible with the local system….even my international plug adapter did not recognise it.

B. There were no instructions.

In respect of A, customer services told us that an appropiate wall switch could be obtained at any hardware store.

No way Jose. Not even at the most specialst of outlets.

In respect of B they sent us hordes of links.. none of which were appropriate for this oven.

We contacted the importers.

The receptionist said that as we were not wholesalers the firm could not help us.

After a brief and expressive outburst she put us in contact with the sales manager.

Yes, we could chop off the plug and replace it with the local variety. This would not affect the guarantee.

Here comes the Costa Rican version of Jarndyce v Jarndyce……

He would send the instruction booklet.

He did.

It was vague in the extreme, but all went well until testing the steam supply. The hose was connected, water turned on, but on pressing the steam button jets of water worthy of Niagara Falls leapt out…covering the floor in a realistic re enactment of Noah’s Fludde.

While the cleaner mopped up the results Danilo was on the ‘phone to the sales manager…..

It appeared that you had to have the oven engaged before geting up steam…….

So today I baked bread. On putting the loaves into the oven I pressed the steam button and was aware of the sudden absence of men….normally underfoot.

Steam rose dramatically, like the steam locomotives of my youth.

No water covered the floor.

The bread was a success.


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