Rayburn Stoves vs. AGA Cookers
The Two Major Range Cookers in the UK
Firstly I had better explain what I mean about range cookers.
I don't mean those new electric or gas brushed chrome machines that you get in kitchen appliance shops and white goods stores. These are relatively cheap to buy and when they are outmoded or broken you scrap them and get a new model. They tend to fit in the sleek, modern, minimalist kitchen that kitchen designers think we all want nowadays.
Yet despite designers telling us what we should be wanting, there are quite a few of us of a romantic nature who still want the traditional farmhouse kitchen with its family, clutter, cats, labradors and vulgarly shaped vegetables and to achieve this idyll you need the traditional, cast iron range cooker. For us romantics there really are only the big two to choose between, the ubiquitous AGA and its humbler cousin, the Rayburn.
The Iconic AGA
Invented in 1922 by a Swedish Nobel prize winner, Dr Gustaf Dalen, to help his wife with the chores of cooking, the AGA was first exported to Britain in 1929. It is still going strong with a few tweaks to adapt it for modern use. Current AGA's now come in a wide range of sizes and colours, but still including the original cream. The modern models are also specifically engineered for use with the full range of fuels available today.
This iconic cooker is now regarded in the UK as a status symbol and is the cooker of choice for many Brits with country houses, providing a warm and welcoming heart to their homes. And I really was not joking about the labradors. In front of the AGA is the perfect place to dry off a soggy hound after a walk in the fields. However for me, thrift monkey that I am, the AGA, iconic and desirable though it is, just doesn't do enough.
The Less Iconic ... but Possibly More Sensible ... Rayburn
When we moved into this small cottage, I needed to be sensible, I needed an all-singing, all-dancing sort of stove, something I could cook on but which would heat the whole house and not just the kitchen. It also had to heat hot water. Enter the rather more practical, though less iconic, Rayburn. And 'it does exactly what it says on the tin', to quote a famous, if grumpy, British TV advert, so effectively that it was lucky for me that someone had advised me not to get one of the more powerful models, otherwise I would have melted our cottage by now.
Efficiency Gone Mad
We had limited money for our dream kitchen so were pleased to find that the Rayburn not only provided more capability than an AGA but, being less iconic, it was also cheaper. What made it even less expensive was the fact that it was an old one that we had reconditioned so we got it a fraction of the cost of a new one.
Because cast iron cookers are virtually indestructible they can be taken apart to have worn or broken parts replaced and they can be modified to cope with different fuels. They can even be re-enameled, though that can be expensive. But buying a reconditioned one from a specialist stove restorer meant that I could fine tune the stove to my own ideal. Not only was I able to specify exactly which model I wanted and which fuel I wanted to burn but I could also stipulate which colour I wanted.
Cheap to run but not necessarily more convenient.
I specifically wanted a multi-fuel stove as I believe it is the cheapest to run. It is obviously not as convenient as ones that you just switch on but the companies who recondition these stoves are finding that people are asking especially for ones that will burn logs etc. This I am pretty sure is not a case of us romantics returning to our roots. Browsing the websites of reconditioned stoves it appears that ones that run on oil, electric or gas are not selling as quickly and I believe this is as a result of the constantly increasing costs of these fuels.
So now we have a deep red, multi-fuel Rayburn that burns logs and a wide variety of solid fuel, heats the whole house including the bathroom towel rail, produces more hot water than we can possibly use and cooks food as well. Even better, there is no need to clean the oven as any splashes burn off naturally and different foods can be cooked at the same time as there is no transference of flavours.
The drawbacks to a multi-fuel cooking stove.
Desirable though I find my cooker, it would be remiss of me not to tell you of one slight drawback. Cooking on a multi-fuel stove is a dark art and one which I am unable to share with you because of the way all of these stoves vary. The draw in the chimney, the fuel you are using, the variation of the controls, all have an effect on the speed that the heat builds up in these ovens. Other variants are what you are cooking and where you put it in the oven so I'm afraid it is just a case of 'suck it and see'. But this really should not be seen as an insurmountable problem as every owner gets used to the vagaries of their own oven in time.
So far it has only taken me a year and we have had many an undercooked potato in that time, but challenging though it may seem I've actually enjoyed the learning process. Now I have learnt to start reving up the oven to cooking heat in plenty of time and have discovered that the more elements of the meal I can put in the oven at once, the more 'me' time I have to sit down and bask in the warmth with an aperitif before dinner. So, I still think it was the right choice. Cheers!
A good all round cook book that deals with the vagaries of cooking with a Rayburn, even to the extent of telling you which is the best shelf to place the food to cook. Plenty of simple, but delicious recipes for everyday life as well as a few 'special meals' for the times you just want to celebrate.