My workhorse

It interesting how the AGA split people into those who love it and couldn’t live without it and those who simply do not get it. It’s a bit like Marmite.

Some years ago we had an American chef here at Ballywalter Park making an American television programme called Pressure Cook. He was called Ralph Pagano and the series was about him being parachuted into a country or State he didn’t know. He then had to work as a chef to earn enough money to get back to New York. They shot some of his Northern Ireland adventure in my kitchen.

They arrived in the early afternoon from the Old Bushmills Distillery with a whiskey cheesecake that he had baked there. On the final bend in the drive a huge bottle of water fell from the luggage rack onto the cheesecake which destroyed it. Not a great start really. As soon as we heard that I was already thinking what we could have for pudding instead. We were 20 for dinner and it was my husband’s birthday.

The production company had wanted Ralph to go duck shooting, but they never really grasped the fact that you have to be here by dawn or dusk to have any chance of shooting mallard. My husband and our gamekeeper shot a few the day before and they filmed a pretend duck shoot with Ralph making duck noises as if he was calling them in! The production team spent some time filming the location to make the most of it, but really they were frittering away the time you and I would have used prepping and cooking.

Eventually around 4 Ralph was finally allowed into the kitchen. There were a lot of shots of him talking to camera about how Mama Pagano cooked duck in the good ol’ days. In the background you could see the AGA with both lids up, heat escaping all the while…… When it came to the point where he actually had to cook, there was no heat left for real cooking and we had to use the electric AGA unit at the far end of my 2 door AGA. And then came the killer line. This super star chef looked straight into the camera and said “ You know what? There is a lot of talk about this $40,000 AGA back home, but as far as I’m concerned it is crap!” Mary Berry would have been horrified!

As I see it, an AGA is the perfect cook stove, even in the 21st century, especially when you live on a farm and you have a Walled Garden. Mine only cooks and keeps the kitchen warm, it has no other duties. It took me a year to really get the hang of cooking on it, but that was 12 years ago.

For our corporate events I can cook everything on the AGA for up to 40 as long as I stick to the formula of hot, cold, hot, cold when sequencing the menus. Our menus are often based on what the Dunleath’s ate 100 plus years ago, their tradition wasMy workhorse soup, fish, meat, pudding and cheese or a savoury. The team and I can do this with ease on the AGA I have.

So what’s for dinner tonight? Actually, as the hens have begun laying eggs at an alarming rate, it’ll be oeuf á la coque avec les toast. It’s hard to beat when you have been weeding for an hour and a half, n’est – ce pas?


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