If you've measured and weighed and calculated and still can't figure out how to cook a 20-pound turkey, Aunt Betty's potato casserole, a pumpkin pie and giblet gravy and serve all of them within the same afternoon, worry not.
Just call up your local AGA dealer, fork over almost $10,000 and watch while they cart more than half a ton of cast iron into your home and, faster then you can say "Touch that drumstick, and you die," build you a four-oven extravaganza that makes your old stove look like a reject from Goodwill.
There are no dials, no knobs, no preheating; the AGA is always on. The thermostat is set when the cooker is first installed so the AGA even takes its temperature when sick.
The model is basically unchanged from the 1920s when it was first designed by a Swedish Nobel laureate physicist. Confined to his home by a laboratory explosion that blinded him, he noticed for the first time just how much time his wife spent in the kitchen. A liberated kind of guy, he decided to do something about it.
Now manufactured in Shropshire, England, where it is forged, not stamped, and hand-enameled with three coats in your choice of blue, ivory, red, black, white, green or brown, the AGA (as in Amalgamated Gas Accumulator) cooker operates on the principle of stored heat. One central gas-fired burner distributes heat to seven separate cast-iron cooking stations: a 150-degree warming plate, 450-degree simmering plate and 700-degree boiling plate on top (with covers when they're not in use) and a 150-degree warming oven, 250-degree simmering oven, 350-degree baking oven and 450-degree roasting oven.
Need a pumpkin pie? Just slide it into the baking oven. Sweet potato casserole? Pop it into the simmering oven. Making gravy and cranberry sauce and hard sauce right now? The simmering spot and boiling spot fit three pots each. Guests not ready after all this work? Retire the dishes to the warming oven and cool your jets.
At a recent demonstration at Nova Energy Systems in Great Falls, AGA spokeswoman Karen Boulton showed its stuff. To cook bacon in the oven and not get splattered, she placed a pan of bacon on the bottom of the roasting oven and carried on with her talk. The spectators were not buying it.
"That bacon's been in there a long time," barked one.
Boulton continued. "It will change your way of thinking and you will begin to use ovens much more." With the AGA, the heat envelopes the pot so there is no need to stir, she notes. Take baked beans, for example. "The beans will be so much richer, slowly cooking for six hours."
"Six hours?" they cried.
This is not for microwave people.
This is for people who like chandeliers in their kitchens. The Princess of Wales has a royal blue one. Martha Stewart has two. "A lot of people use it as a second stove." says Boulton. "They just like the looks of it." Which might explain Aga's ad campaign: "There's more to an AGA than just good looks."
The words Rolls Royce has touched some lips, referring equally to its design and price tag. Bet on spending $9,500 (the price includes freight, assembly, flue, a kettle, or grill pan, roasting pans, a cookbook and two tennis racket-looking things that act as a toaster) for a four-oven version and remember that in England AGA owners will them to their children.
If the idea of constant heat raises an eyebrow, rest assured that, according to AGA stove representatives, if you're a frequent cooker, the difference in fuel bills is not too great. The bill is likely to be about $50 a month for natural gas.
At the end of the demonstration, Boulton pulled out roast beef, browned potatoes, and Parmesan cheese bread from the warming oven. She poured hollandaise sauce that had been kept warm on the warming spot over broccoli and served. For dessert there was chocolate swirl cheesecake, deep chocolate brownies, lemon meringue pie and strawberries dipped in chocolate. The spectators milled about with plates in one hand and poked and prodded the AGA with the other. An appliance this astute, you'd almost expect to carry out the trash.
"We don't consider it an appliance," says Boulton. After all, what do you call something that costs the equivalent of more than a hundred meals at a three-star restaurant, that you don't even have to turn on. "I mean," says Boulton, "it's like calling a mansion, a house."
Nina Killham is a Washington-area freelance writer.