Pumpkins and Squash in the AGA

There are a variety of harvest festivals the length and breadth of Britain, but no Thanksgiving Day.

Never mind, this family will follow traditional Thanksgiving protocol – gratefully serving turkey, stuffing/dressing, gravy, at least one starch, vegetables galore.  And dessert – in particular, pumpkin pie.

In preparation, welcome to Herdy Girl’s Pumpkin-Puree-Fest.  Meet the guests of honour…

This is Blue Hokkaido. Her dusky blue skin hides dense bright flesh, and massive seeds.  After roasting, Blue Hokkaido was the driest, sweetest, and nuttiest of all five varieties.  Surprisingly complex.

Acorn’s dark green coat was a beautiful contrast to his medium flesh, which reminded me of the texture of a not-quite-ripe cantaloupe melon. Once roasted, his flesh was moist, coarse and blandly sweet.

Butternut, hard to cut into, but always consistent. Her flesh was smooth and moderately sweet with excellent flavour.

This fella was an unnamed small pumpkin. We’ll call him Wilbur.

Wilbur was a little soft because he’d sat prettily near the nice warm Aga for a week. He didn’t have a lot of flesh, mostly pith. Once cooked, he didn’t improve. Poor Wilbur.

Lastly, Musque de Provence. The belle of the ball. A good size, not too difficult to cut, dewy fleshed.

Ms M de Provence took an extra ten minutes longer to finish roasting.  Despite her lovely appearance, the result was okay.  Just okay. Sigh.

Onward. Lots to do. Holiday impending.

For roasting, I placed two racks in the Roasting Oven of the Aga – one on the third set of runners and one on the bottom.  I baked the unseasoned fruit for an hour and twenty minutes, turning the trays after 20 min, swapping shelves at 40 min, and turning the trays again at 60 min.  (Ms M de Provence’s tray required an extra 10 minutes roasting, as above.)

Two trays full of fork-tender pumpkin/squash to puree together, after they cool for ten minutes.

I mixed a bit of each type in every whizz-batch.  Five batches smoothly pureed.

Lots and lots of puree.  Lots.

The flavours balanced into a really, truly, completely delicious whole.

I’m freezing most of the puree, so I weighed it into the two most commonly used portions for the recipes I use:

2/3 cup, 150g in metric;

1 & 3/4 cup, 425g in metric, which is the same amount contained in a can/tin of purchased puree.

Any extra was consumed by myself and two happy dogs.

Roll on pumpkin pie, I am ready!


Herdy Girl

Lemon & Berry Polenta Cake

A small bowl of summer berries and a lonely lemon were languishing on my countertop this morning…

And it’s Monday. If any day needs cake, it’s Monday.

I have been a little leery of baking cakes in the two-oven AGA.  Today, I set out to conquer my fear, and with one of my favourite cakes – a Lemon & Berry Polenta Cake. It’s a simple cake, and ideal for building confidence in AGA baking skills.

Fragrant lemon and ripe berries are the stars of this buttery, light cake. And I love the polenta-crunchy edge.

When asked his opinion, my Best Beloved described it as, “A light, lemony sponge with fruity flavour bombs. Yummy.”

Guess I’ll go with that!


Herdy Girl

Print Recipe
Lemon & Berry Polenta Cake
This is a light, lemony, fruity, delicious cake.
Course Cakes
Course Cakes
  1. In a two-oven AGA, position a rack at the bottom of the Roasting Oven, and have the plain shelf ready to use. Or set conventional oven to 350f/180c.
  2. Lightly butter a 25 cm cake tin (10 in cake pan) and line the bottom with a circle of baking parchment. Lightly flour the sides of the pan, tapping out the excess. Set the pan aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk or sieve together the dry ingredients - flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well blended.
  4. In a large bowl (using a stand mixer or hand mixer), beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add eggs, one at a time and stir until just blended. Don't worry if it looks a bit 'curdled', it'll be okay!
  6. Using either a large metal spoon or a spatula, fold in half of dry ingredients, then add milk & lemon juice, then fold in the final half of the dry ingredients.
  7. Pour batter into prepared tin, spreading evenly.
  8. Place cold Plain Sheet on second set of runners in Roasting Oven, and put the filled cake tin on the grid on the oven bottom. Close the door and set your timer for 15 minutes.
  9. During those 15 minutes, combine the berries and the remaining flour and sugar. Also, you may want to have a cup of tea, or check your social media.
  10. When the timer alerts you that 15 minutes have passed, carefully slide the cake out of the oven, leaving the door ajar. Scatter the berries over the cake, evenly. (Discard any remaining flour mixture.
  11. Carefully slide cake back into oven and continue baking it for another 15 minutes. Then turn cake around and back another 5 minutes, or until a cake tester (skewer, toothpick...) comes out clean from centre of cake.
  12. Cool cake in the tin for 15 minutes. Then gently run a knife around the inside edge of the tin to make sure it is loose. Invert the cake over a rack and peel off the parchment.
  13. Lay a flat serving plate on the bottom of the cake and carefully flip the cake once more, so that the berries are on top. Lovely.
  14. Serve the cake warm (if, like us, you have been overwhelmed by buttery fumes and cannot help yourself) or at room temperature.
Recipe Notes

You could substitute buttermilk for the milk.  You could also use other fruits: maybe fresh figs with orange instead of lemon, apricots with blackberries... Or you could leave the fruit out and enjoy a beautiful, simple lemon polenta cake.

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Iconic Toast?

One thing that kept popping up when I first did an internet search on AGA cooking was toast.  (Pun unintended, but I like it.)

We own a two-slice electric toaster, which lays claim to a coveted spot on our countertop. I do not love it. It is thoroughly unreliable: one cycle and the toast is barely warm, run a second cycle and it inevitably burns.

I like toast, especially crisp Italian sourdough toast coated in salted British butter.  Or wheaty wholegrain toast, buttered and covered in homemade rhubarb and ginger jam.  But really… I kept hearing about ‘Iconic Aga Toast’ like it was an amazing thing.  It’s toast! I may have rolled my eyes.

Sarcasm aside, after a couple of weeks with our inherited AGA, I was intrigued enough to splash out on an AGA Toaster.  It’s a wire contraption designed to secure your bread and suspend it just above the surface of the ever-hot Boiling Plate (BP).

Here it is, in it’s glory. The AGA Toaster.

Lest you think this is frivolous – as a blog post and as a method of cooking – please note that the aim is a fully-rounded working knowledge of how to work with an AGA.

For today’s purposes, one slice of store-bought bread goes between the hinged grids. The whole lot is placed directly on the surface of the BP.

First one side…

A couple of notes: I find that putting the cover down over the toaster presses the toast too close to the surface and burns average breads very quickly. Also, don’t step away from the toast because the line between perfectly golden and incinerated could be a stroll to the sink and back. (Mind you, this is also true of other methods.)

I’ve not timed the process, which will vary with type of bread. Just tip the grid and check your toast – when it has achieved the colour you’re looking for, flip the entire lot over to do the other side.

Then the other.

The handle of the toaster can get quite hot, depending on where you put it. For me, the coolest position is to have it over the left front corner of the range, the handle pointing to an analogue clock’s seven.

When the second side matches the perfection of the first, you’ve finished toasting.  Set it aside on your toast rack for attention in good time, or butter and consume immediately.

(Placing a toast rack on the back of the AGA keeps toast perfectly warm.)

Pretty darn good toast!

There it is: Iconic AGA Toast, complete with tidy pattern of toasty squares.

Cons? Well, you have to have an AGA or similar range, and the wire contraption may or may not have further uses.  You cannot use this method if you’re already cooking something else on the BP.

Pros? Very evenly toasted, every time. Every single time.

Am I glad that I bought the toaster, even though we own a separate electric toaster? Yes, actually, I am. Do I use it regularly? Yes, I do.

The AGA toaster will toast two large slices or four smaller slices of toast, simultaneously. It does a spectacular job toasting bagels on one side, and ditto for getting crumpets perfectly done.

Can you tell I’ve enjoyed testing it?

Lots of things to do with toast, eh?


Herdy Girl

What the heck is an AGA?

When we moved into our feels-like-a-holiday cottage, we inherited a red two-oven AGA.

Apparently, dogs like to stay warm by an AGA. Even in June…

I’d only read about AGAs and Rayburns and similar ranges in novels set in English country cottages and manor houses, where they seem to be written in as minor kitchen characters.  I’d seen some in magazines or on pinterest, but had never even seen one in real life.  And I’d certainly never used one.

They are very different from any other stove/oven combo that I’d worked with; very different. So, I knew there’d be a learning curve.

It is some seriously heavy kit. And I literally mean heavy – solid piece of cast iron heavy.

Two hot plates, two ovens, one Border Collie.

An AGA’s cast iron core absorbs heat from a continuously burning source, that chunk of metal then releases radiant heat to cook/bake.  Our AGA burns oil, though there are solid fuel, gas and (more recently) electric versions.

I can only speak to the Red AGA above and to our experience with it.

All my initial information came from the internet, starting with the manufacturer’s own website (www.agaliving.com), where I read the following:

Image www.agaliving.com
Boiling Plate
Big enough to hold three average sized saucepans at once, the high heat of this boiling plate can boil water faster than most electric kettles.
Simmering Plate
The simmering plate has a far gentler heat than the boiling plate, making it work wonders with sauces or when frying an egg. It holds three average sized saucepans and can also be used as a griddle.
Heat Source
Once an AGA is up to operating temperature just a trickle of energy is all that’s needed to keep it there. You can choose from natural gas, propane gas, electricity or oil.
Roasting Oven
This oven alone is big enough to cook for the whole household, with a space to accommodate a 13kg (28lb) bird. As versatile as it is spacious, it can also be used for grilling and baking.
Baking Oven
Featured in every 3 or 4-oven AGA. Like all AGA ovens the cast iron interior holds in its heat tenaciously, so don’t be afraid to open the door and take a peek at progress. Its moderate baking temperature is perfect for bread, cakes and biscuits.
Simmering Oven
You’ll never taste meat that’s as tender or flavoursome as meat that has been slow cooked in this oven. Simply slide in your dish first thing in the morning, pull it out at teatime and enjoy the incredible results.


Boilerplate advertising, right?   Hmm, that’s what I thought too.   That said, a person has to start somewhere.  So, I did my homework online and asked for an AGA cookbook for Christmas.

Guess I’ll work my way through the recipes.  I’m particularly intrigued by the option to cook Pizza on the bottom of the Roasting Oven, and by the Roasted Pork Belly with crisp crackling.  And Chocolate Brownies are a must.

And I’ll have to experiment a bit – I guarantee an English cookbook will not deal with some of the foods I grew to love in the southern United States.  Shrimp and grits, Fried Chicken, Cornbread…

We’ve got an AGA adventure on our hands!