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My Love Affair With a Cream Aga Stove
A Cream Aga Stove
My earliest childhood memories are centered round the cream Aga Stove which stood in the kitchen in my parent’s home. Who could ever forget the smell or taste of the home made bread baked in it.
A Voracious Appetite
Our Aga had a voracious appetite for Anthracite. It required feeding, a lot and often! Its diet was supplemented with pages taken from our local Newspaper. The sheets of paper would be rolled into long cylindrical tubes and then wrapped around one hand to form a loose crown with both ends tucked in. They made excellent fire lighters when planted between the coals.
Oats, Mealie Meel or Maltabella Porridge!
Breakfast consisted of Oats, Mealie Meel or Maltabella Porridge. Once the Aga had been lit, the porridge could be prepared and left to simmer until all the family members could all be assembled for breakfast.
Maltabella porridge was and still is, a trusted family favorite in many South African homes. It has a taste of malted grain – a Sorghum porridge, which at first glance looks just like a smooth chocolate pudding. It tastes nothing like chocolate and it is not smooth either! It fact, it has a slightly grainy texture. It can be difficult to cook well – for it is apt to form rather unpleasant dark lumps if not prepared properly. The dry powder should be mixed into a paste with a small quantity of cold water, before adding it too fast boiling water. It should be stirred until the porridge begins to thicken. Once thickened, it could be left to cook slowly on top of the stove. As it boils, small eruptions will form on the surface of the porridge. These are apt to pop and burst suddenly. One eruption too close to the body can so easily burn your skin! Spooned onto the plate and left for a while, the porridge will quickly form a blanket or skin on the surface. I would eat mine quickly to ensure this did not happen!
Maltabella porridge is high in fiber and low in saturated fat. It is also a very good source of magnesium and iron.
Mealie Meel Porridge
Mealie Meel porridge is by contrast very white in color and it has a very smooth texture. It is perhaps the most humble of the three porridges eaten in our home. It is loaded with carbohydrates, protein, fiber, Vitamin B, niacin, thiamin and riboflavin and potassium. It also contains magnesium and iron, very little fat and almost a nil trace of sodium.
My father sometimes refer to Mealie Meel as ‘skilly’, a reference to it being of a rather thin consistency - usually due to a rather mean portion of the powder having been added to the hot boiling water, by the person making it. I suspect he ate rather a lot of ‘skilly’ whilst he was stationed in Italy during the war.
The taste of Meelie Meel can be improved with a dollop of honey or jam, added to a well in the center of the plate.
Quaker Oats Porridge
Quaker Oats is especially good when cooked with half milk and half water. Add a spoonful of Jam or Honey to a well made in the center of the porridge and it is quite delicious!
A Wooden Clothes Dryer
My father erected a handmade wooden clothes dryer in the kitchen. It could be raised up or lowered with a series of ropes and pulley’s.
Many an anxious mother would call from the village to ask if she could bring her napkins over to dry. It was a pretty ingenious contraption for once brought down to head height; the washing could be hung across the boards and then raised back up into the ceiling. There it would hang, in the ceiling where the hot air from the Aga could get to it. This was particularly useful during long periods of inclement weather.
Hot Water Storage
Alongside the Aga, mounted halfway up the wall was a heavy metal Tank. The water inside was heated by the Aga. If one raised your arms up to touch the tank, you could feel the temperature of the contents within. If they were hot, you were assured of a hot bath! If they were lukewarm, you knew that you were bound to emerge from the bath, shivering with cold.
The Aga Temperature Gauge
If the temperature needle showed up in the cooler zone of the Aga, Mother would have to tailor her cooking to suit the temperature reflected there – that is, unless she could get the Aga to respond quickly to a shovel full of Anthracite, which she would fling through the door.
At worst, crusty hot rolls of bread would have to be replaced by rice pudding or baked custard, sometimes, cooked slowly overnight in the oven while we slept. Leftover egg whites might be whipped up with grainy sugar, to miraculously form wonderful meringues. They would not only turn slightly brown in the oven, but would also split during cooking. These would ooze melted sugar and served with my Mother’s homemade strawberry jam and dollops of fresh cream they were both, sticky, crunchy and very delicious!
Straight from the Cows
Our milk and cream came from a nearby neighbor who kept a few cows. Most times the milk would be carried home by my father. I doubt it ever went through any process of pasteurization for when it arrived home, it was still warm, just as if it had come straight from the cows!
Once cooled, the cream would lay dense on the top of the milk. We could scoop it off with a spoon or our fingers!
Surplus milk would be left to sour and once the curds and whey had separated, Mum would make cottage cheese from it. She would pour the sour mix through a muslin cloth and leave it to drain from a hook mounted on the wooden plate rack over the kitchen sink.
Occasionally she used a washed flour bag for this purpose. It still bore the printed but faded label of the flour company on its side. I can still see her in my mind’s eye, trying to unravel the chain stitches in one long continuous thread from the bag.
Cottage cheese is still not one of my favorite food items today.
Those Blessed Ducks!
Sent on an errand to pick up some milk one day, we Children returned home, with not only the milk but a puppy. The farmer begged us to take him home with us. He told us that he knew that the puppy would be much happier living in our home!
How he got his name I cannot remember - perhaps my parents paid Sixpence for him - but Sixpence he was named. He was to live with us very happily for the next fifteen years – that was until he died when father sadly reversed the car over him. Poor Sixpence, he had grown too deaf to hear the car coming.
On another occasion, my siblings and I were sent on foot to collect some ducks from our neighbor. We arrived home, every one of us, clutching a live duck held very tightly to our chests... Those blessed ducks – they pooped continuously down our clothes. We cried all the way home too, but never once did we let go of those ducks.
A Warm Place for One and All!
The warming oven of the Aga would sometimes serve to help Incubator newborn chicks. I recall fluffy yellow bundles being hand fed with a warm mix of dampened chicken feed - right there on our kitchen floor.
The family dog and cat would also vie for the warmest spot closest to the stove. Competition could be very stiff.
My Mother would chastise the cat who would sometimes try to do its business in our coal bucket!
Coming in from the cold you were always assured of getting a warm place to put your hands and also a place to warm your backside against the metal doors, that is, until it grew so red hot that you were forced to move yourself quickly away.
Wet socks or towels would often be left to dry on the chrome handle. Wet shoes could be assured of a place against the concrete base. Wet socks and shoes afforded one an opportunity to chatter with visitors or family members whilst you were waiting for the items to dry!
On just half an acre, our parents grew almost everything we ate, but there was always one thing missing!
These were Naartjie’s or Tangerines as they are known in the UK. To us children this showed a serious lack of judgment on our parent’s part, for or course, we always wanted what we could not have!
So we hatched a wicked plan which was not without its risks! Our neighbor on the opposite side owned several Naartjie trees, but unfortunately they grew on the far side of his garden and were not easily accessible to us.
Most days he would sit on his back verandah which overlooked the orchard. Good timing was essential if we wanted to reach our prize without being seen. I am not sure why we did not just ask him for the fruit, but for some reason we were more afraid to ask him than we were of being caught!
The occasional foray into his orchard did seem very well worth the risk at the time! The fruit always tasted much better than that which we grew in our garden!
Such an Abundance!
One thing is for sure we had no excuse for our thieving - for we grew Oranges, Grapefruit, Kumquat Paw Paws, Lemons, Guava trees, and even three different varieties of Avocado Pears. One variety was so large that they grew to the size of small footballs. We even cultivated Passion Fruit Vines - their fruit so shiny and purple, cut in half with half a teaspoon of sugar spooned into the center, they were delicious. Added to great bowls of fruit salad it added something special to our fruit salad. Tree Tomatoes were there were for the eating, so too were Strawberries, for eating and Jam making.
Vegetables included Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Cabbages, Lettuce, Radish, Tomatoes, Broad Beans, Peas and Pumpkins.
Later as the tree matured, we even had a small supply of Macadamia Nuts.
My father set about growing Tomatoes in Hydroponic tanks which he installed himself. I cannot remember why, but for some reason the project was abandoned and the tanks filled with good earth, in which my mother grew flowers. These included a few English Bulbs. I clearly remember some red and yellow Ranunculus and also some blue Anemones – perhaps they were a way for my Mother to cling onto some earlier memories of an earlier part of her life spent living in England.
The sound of a bird clucking loudly down the yard would propel us children into action. We would rush down to the bird cages to see if we could be first one to pick up the warm egg. We were never short of eggs.
For a short time my Father tried breeding battery hens. To my relief, this venture was short lived, for all the birds went down with chicken pox.
I do know that he had some bee hives at one time - I can recall the honey appearing on the breakfast table complete with the honeycomb.
At varioustime we bred Ducks, Chickens, Turkeys and even Bantams. The latter lived in a cage which was easily transported from one place to another in the yard.. This was yet another of my father’s creations.
My Mother bred and sold Turkeys every Christmas.
For a short time, my Father tried breeding Rabbits. Us Children loved to feed them carrots through the wire netting, until a stray dog managed to get into their cages. He killed the lot. We were sad when we saw their bodies distributed across the lawn but curiously, we felt a sense of relief at their going, for those bunnies would have ended up our dinner table! We knew that bounty such as that would always find a way to our table.
The Killing Fields
Sometimes I would see my father appear to walk rather surreptitiously down to the bottom of the garden. Then, I would hear the sound of a bird squawking!
In my mind’s eye, I pictured him killing a chicken, turkey or duck – perhaps even drowning it in a 44 Gallon water drum filled with water! He kept one down in the yard. It was more often used to test out the outboard engine, for a fishing boat he sometimes worked on.
I never wanted to ask him how he killed the birds! Perhaps because I did not want to know how he did it. Once killed; the birds would suddenly appear. hanging upside down by their feet with their heads facing downwards on the verandah.
We children would like to help pluck their feathers. We also liked to route through their crops to try to discover exactly what the birds had eaten the day before!
To our disappointment, we found only grit in them. but sometimes while routing through their dead bodies, we would discover soft unlaid eggs.
My mother would collect and wash the bird’s soft downy feathers to make pillows for our beds...
Those Tantalizing Smells!
The tantalizing smells of food would continuously waft around our home. Sometimes they were accompanied by the sound of a roast cooking in the Aga.
The top of the stove would serve as a griddle. Mum would grease the surface with a piece of printed butter paper and then she would spoon dollops of thick crumpet batter onto the piping hot surface. Dozens of bubbles would quickly grow from the crumpets. Once cooked they would be placed directly onto the plate of a waiting child. Thick homemade butter and honey were then spooned onto the crumpet, just as soon as the crumpet had hit the plate!
Then, another child would take up the unfilled space - waiting for their turn.
Toasted Cheese and Tomato Sandwiches.
Toasted sandwiches were easily made on the top surface of the Aga. Filled with slices of strong cheddar and fresh tomato they were simply delicious. I would encourage the cheese in my own sandwich to drip out over onto the metal surface so that I could scrape it off and taste the hard baked cheese left behind, on the surface of the Aga.
The strong cheddar was of the type which came covered in a thick waxed cloth. I would bite down into it, trying to separate the leftover bits of hard cheese with my teeth.
There were times when the Aga was not hot enough to cook a slice of toast!
In this event we would spike a piece of bread with the Carving Fork and hold it over the open flames with the oven door held open – the result, a curved piece of not very nice tasting toast – almost warm enough to melt a small quantity of butter on it!
The sad irons were not only used to do the ironing! They were sometimes used as weights, to press a cooked piece of Topside or an Ox Tongue. Once cooked, my Mother would remove the tough skin from the Tongue and place it into a glass Pyrex bowl with a plate set on top. Onto this would go a sad iron to weigh it down?
Once pressed, my Mother would slice the meat thinly for sandwiches. This was one of my least favorite foods to eat. Coming in a close second to that, was the roasted heart of an ox or cow!
Knowing How to Take Control!
My mother was big on steam puddings! They were always cooked in a large pot of boiling water which she would place on the top of the Aga. First she would grease a large Pyrex bowl, and then she would spoon large dollops of Syrup, Honey, Jam or Marmalade into it. On top of that, she would pour the cake mixture and then the pudding would be covered with a muslin cloth. Once tied with string, it would be placed onto an upturned plate in the boiling water. It would then be left to bubble away for a couple of hours with the lid on.
The pudding would emerge, pushed tight up against the bulging cloth. It would be piping hot with steam pouring out from on all sides.
Mother would then cut the string, remove the cloth and then turn the pudding out before the watchful eyes of the family and sometimes friends. Hot jam would scurry down all sides of the pudding. These delicious desserts were served with huge dollops of thick custard and cream with everyone clamoring for a bit of the thick custard 'skin'!
This was my Mum taking control of her Vintage Aga.
Sometimes it was off when she wanted it on - sometimes it was on when she had no need for it. My Mum, she always somehow managed to come up with the goods.
Aga Cookers or Stoves
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© 2013 Sally Gulbrandsen