I’ve always loved old cast-iron kitchen ranges. My Grandad would always put the porridge on overnight in the warming oven of the old, age-darkened Aga at Oldcastletown. By morning it would be cooked creamy, although with such a thick skin that I couldn’t stomach it. As a child I was a very picky eater. The Aga – it ran on solid fuel – also made the best toast. Grandad would supervise the making of this treat on a cold winter’s evening as we came in hungry from school. There were two methods: the first was simply to place a thickly sliced piece of bread from the local shop directly onto the base of the hot oven where it turned brown in a matter of minutes. And then there were the evenings when we were allowed to get out the ancient toasting forks, open the front of the firebox and toast on the flame. Those were the times that Grandad’s work- and age-toughened hands came into their own, holding the bread close enough so it toasted properly. Our softer little paws – and faces! – weren’t quite up to enduring the heat.
Slatered with real butter and layered with homemade jam, chosen with care from the jam cupboard upstairs (blackcurrant normally, occasionally gooseberry and, on rare occasions, a jar of plum jam), it was a feast to be savoured. That old Aga was the heart of the house, the constantly-stoked workhorse that heated the water, the radiators and the enormous hotpress overhead, cooked everything from joints of meat to roasting tins full of apple tart and made the kitchen the place where everybody spent their time. It was kept going year-round – my memories of the small antique electic cooker in the corner actually ever being used are few and far between.
When we extended the kitchen in Brookville, my childhood home, I remember the excitment of getting our own Rayburn installed in the new space. I pored over the cookbook that came with that cooker and worked my way through many of the recipes, being especially enamoured of the warming oven for raising dough when I started making my own bread. My mother still cooks at home on an oil-fired Rayburn, which is much easier to manage than the old Aga. It doesn’t quite have the same feeling, though.
Now, grown up and with a house – ok, a cottage – of my own, a range has long been on the list of would-like-to-haves. A phone call from my Rathkeale Aunt before Christmas changed all that: she had a friend who was throwing out her Stanley and would we like it? The offer serendipitusly coincided with our next project – we’re in the middle of designing an extension to the cottage and this is the first time that we will actually have a place to put a range. After deciding that the extension will be now fashioned around a cooker, the Husband, my Dad and the Little Brother headed off to Rathkeale with a trailer and collected our new (second hand) Stanley, to sit in storage at my parents’ house until we get its home built. I’m going to have to try making that porridge for myself…