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Gourmet Life: The Aga Ambassador

PUBLISHED: 11:06 15 November 2013 | UPDATED: 11:16 15 November 2013

Mince pies, from Traditional Aga Christmas by Louise Walker

Mince pies, from Traditional Aga Christmas by Louise Walker

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An Aga is the heart of the home, and never more so than during the festive period, says Bath-based author Louise Walker

Louise WalkerLouise Walker

With its continual warmth and nostalgic image, the Aga comes into its own at Christmas and can often be the focal point of the festive kitchen.

For many, the romantic image of standing around the Aga as the temperatures drop outside at Christmas can be traced back to childhood but Bath-based author Louise Walker’s life-long love affair with Agas started several years ago when she was training as a Home Economics teacher in Gloucester.

“We had a Rayburn to cook with, and a then-boyfriend’s mother had an Aga. I fell in love with the Aga long term but not with the boyfriend,” laughs Louise, who has gone on to write several cookbooks for Aga owners.

The Traditional Aga Cookery Book in 1994 was the first in a series of best-selling books on the subject, all of which have gone on to become a source of inspiration for Aga fans throughout the world.

Christmas cake, from Traditional Aga Christmas by Louise WalkerChristmas cake, from Traditional Aga Christmas by Louise Walker

This month sees the release of a new, revised edition of Louise’s classic book Traditional Aga Christmas.

The book features a range of delicious and inspiring festive recipes for Aga owners, from impressive canapés to nibble with pre-Christmas drinks to ingenious ideas for making the most of the inevitable leftovers when the guests have departed after the big day.

The book includes simple step-by-step instructions (complete with a useful Christmas Day countdown) for cooking the perfect turkey, vegetables, stuffings and accompaniments, and if you’re looking for a tasty alternative to turkey, there are plenty of suggestions.

As Louise explains in the book, one of the keys to successful and enjoyable entertaining over Christmas is to prepare as much as possible in advance. Christmas puddings, cakes, mincemeats and numerous other dishes can be made days or even weeks before Christmas, filling the house with festive aromas and creating a sense of anticipation, while making the day itself much more manageable.

“Christmas is all about family and entertaining and homeliness,” says Louise. “An Aga is the heart of the home and really epitomises this welcoming, celebratory spirit, but Agas also help to produce the best Christmas food too.

“The run-up to Christmas starts early for me as I have to prepare for Christmas Aga demonstrations so by the end of October I like to have the Christmas cakes, puddings and mincemeat safely made and stored.

“At the beginning of December I make a few dishes go into the freezer for family meals over the festive break, along with breadcrumbs for stuffings and mince pies that are then ready to simply pop in the Aga.

“Preparation is the key to a relaxed Christmas in the kitchen. At all of my cookery demonstrations I suggest that the host or hostess sits down with a glass of wine or cup of good coffee and a notebook and plans the meals and shopping list.

“Do as much as possible in the way of food preparation in the days before Christmas. Stuffings, sauces, roast vegetables etc can all be done in advance as I explain in the book.”

After a dip in sales a few years ago, there is renewed interest in Agas and more and more people are investing in them. Louise runs regular demonstrations and holds cookery courses from her Bath home and she has noticed a new generation of Aga fans.

“I have definitely seen a lot more younger people coming to Aga demonstrations. They have a passion for good food and love to shop for, prepare and serve good ingredients. They’re interested in not just the cooking but in the provenance of the food.”

There has been much debate about the economics of running an Aga, especially as energy bills continue to spiral, but Louise says people can still use them more efficiently and economically.

“An Aga can seem like a large expense when purchased but it has a long life if regularly serviced – much, much longer than a conventional cooker. As well as cooking superbly, it will warm the house and dry the washing.

“To really get the most out of your Aga, learn how to use it properly so that you use a minimum amount of fuel. If it’s a long time since you bought your Aga then pop along to your local Aga showroom to ask for fuel saving tips. If you’re about to buy an Aga then ask about the latest fuel-efficient models.

“I like the fact that the Aga is always ready for cooking and is very versatile. It cooks using all-round heat but is still tolerant of imperfect timekeeping, keeping food moist and tasty. I also love the continual gentle warmth of the Aga in the cold house we live in.

“Agas are perhaps seen as a status symbol for some people but for serious cooks the results are hard to beat so I certainly can’t see them becoming an endangered species. Once you start cooking on an Aga it’s difficult to think of any other type of cooking. The food just doesn’t taste as good.”

Louise Walker’s Traditional Aga Christmas, with photographs by Mike Cooper, is published by Absolute Press, £20.

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Tasting Notes

Home-brewers and commercial producers go head-to-head at The Feathers Hotel in Woodstock this month for The Sloe Gin Challenge.

The event will be held at the hotel on Friday, November 29 and Saturday, 30 and prizes will be awarded for the best in each category.

The top three gins from each category will then go head-to-head in order to crown an overall winner.

The first day of the challenge will see a panel of expert judges blind sample and score each of the gins out of a total score of 100.

The second day will be a ticketed event open to the public, priced at £15 per person. These guests can enjoy a short welcome talk before sampling the award-winning gins.

Entrants must be 18 years or over and declare if the gin is ‘commercial’ or ‘home-made’.

Entries must be a minimum sample size of 700ml in a sealed glass container and will not be returned to the entrant. The product must be a gin-based concoction and use an infusion of fruit (no essence-only products will be allowed).

The gin can be from a previous year, not only a 2013 vintage. Fresh or frozen sloes are allowed. All entries must reach The Feathers Hotel by November 18.

www.feathers.co.uk

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Just six months after launch, Wolfy’s, the new brand from Kitchen Garden Foods Ltd, has won a contract to supply First Great Western Trains.

Commuters and other rail travellers will now be able to enjoy Creamy Porridge with Berry Pot, one of three flavours in the range.

Made simply by adding hot or boiling water to the mix of rolled oats, full cream milk powder and cane sugar, the unique feature of Wolfy’s is the little pot of jam tucked under the lid which is ready to tip into the hot porridge.

The Berry Pot is a mixed berry jam (strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants) made at the company’s kitchens in Stroud.

Sales and Marketing Director Barbara Moinet says, “We are delighted to be supplying First Great Western so soon after the launch of Wolfy’s. We are sure that all that slow release energy and delicious creamy fruity flavour will keep those commuters going all day.”

www.wolfys.co.uk

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Less than a year since it opened under new owners, The Killingworth Castle at Wootton has been awarded a Bib Gourmand from Michelin and 2 Rosettes from the AA for its food.

The traditional 17th century coaching inn was brought back from its derelict state by Claire and Jim Alexander, who also run The Ebrington Arms near Chipping Campden.

They have repeated their winning formula, combining a warm welcome and fun atmosphere with good food and a range of real ales, and the pub is going from strength to strength, picking up several accolades of note along the way.

The menu, created by executive chef Andrew Lipp and head chef Phil Currie, celebrates the best of British, using seasonal food and local suppliers. Highlights include braised belly of Old Spot pork and Cotswold veal. Everything is homemade on site, from jams and chutneys to ice cream, bread and sausages.

Further plans for The Killingworth Castle in 2014 include the addition of up to eight en-suite B&B rooms.

www.thekillingworthcastle.com

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Gooseberry gin from Scotland, elderflower vodka from Somerset and butterscotch cream liqueur from Devon are just a few of the delicious and quirky concoctions on sale at new ‘liquid deli’ Demijohn in Oxford’s Little Clarendon Street.

www.demijohn.co.uk

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By Mark Taylor

This article is from the 2013 Christmas edition of Cotswold Life magazine

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