Traditionally you’d find an Aga in farmhouses etc, where they would provide a range of cooking options for a household and also provide heat / hot water for the home (wood or coal fired). And yes, they’d usually be on all the time, but in a draughty old farmhouse this was a Good Thing.
These days cental heating means many Agas are just posh cookers, although you can get oil-fired versions which heat hot water for baths etc.
They have acquired a strong social context - upper-middle class “posh rural”; owning an Aga says
I have a kitchen big enough to justify a massive range cooker
My wife is home during the day so she spends a lot of time baking
I can afford £1000s on a cooker
There is a sub-genre of literature in the UK called the “Aga Saga”, which deals with “illicit rumpy-pumpy in the English countryside”, so lots of bored rich housewives getting jiggy with the gardener while hubby is working in the City (think Jilly Cooper etc).
I have an internet friend who lives in Peterborough. When I asked him about Agas once, he nearly bit my head off about not being some rich bastard trying to impress his friends by buying an over-priced status symbol that would make his house unbearably warm in the summer.
I put it on my list of questions never to ask him again.
As one might imagine, sales of Agas have suffered recently along with those of other large metal status symbols because of the world economic slump. Aga Rangemaster Group Plc, maker of the stoves, reported an 80% plunge in annual net income on March 13, scrapped its dividend and said orders for 2009 were down almost 20%.
So I looked at the website, and an Aga is a sort of giant oven/range that also keeps warm all the time and heats up the rest of the kitchen? I couldn’t find a diagram or anything, but it claims to replace toasters and laundry racks and kettles and all sorts of things–does it have a little toaster drawer? Are you just supposed to dry your clothes in front of it?
A range that is warm all the time is definitely an English invention. It would be torture 8 months of the year here. Though I sort of gather that you can turn it off?
We used to put buttered bread into it and call it “bread in the oven”, the butter would melt and it was delicious, not really toast in the traditional sense though maybe if we’d left it in longer and without butter it would be.
There’s a bar on the front where some clothes would be hung to dry sometimes.
Now, about the ovens–there are like 3 or 4 separate ovens? I can see where that would be great for large meals–roast in one, bread in another, etc., but they’re all sort of small. What if you’re baking 5 sheets of cookies–do you use 3 at once, each in a separate little oven or just one at a time? When I’m baking I generally put 2 sheets or pies in at once, so the ovens just seem kind of small.
Still, the whole idea of an oven that warms the whole kitchen and possibly can’t even be turned off just blows me away. (We’re having sunny weather around 25 C right now, and enjoying the nice cool spring which will be over all too soon.)
Agas are lovely & make sense in cold, damp climates. Especially in older buildings without central heat.
But there are dealers in Texas. Where we need AC a good bit of the year! There appear to be models that work more like “regular” ranges, instead of staying on all the time. So they are just high end stoves. The classic Aga makes no sense here.
My grandparents (in Peterborough, coincidently) have an ancient stone coal/wood burning AGA in their dining/living room. They use it in place of central heating and for making tea. They used to use it for heating food and an iron but not any more.
It’s a wonderful thing to come in from the cold to a roaring hot AGA. Granddad has his equally-ancient chair sitting next to it so he can watch his HDTV in complete comfort. We’d love to have one but our house is a lot more open than theirs and we can’t really justify the cost. They live in a small 3-bedroom town house.
Two ovens as far as i know. One of those doors in the picture I linked to leads to the heating controls. At least in the model my auntie has. I dunno about relative size, I suppose they are kinda small. Several homes I’ve been in have one of these and a more modern cooker too.