Monday, June 14, 2010

fancy stoves and crappy stoves

I have always hated the stove in my house, for the full seven and a half years I've lived here. Why do I hate that wretched range from hell? Well, to begin with, the door doesn't seat well on the actual stove, which is irritating and probably why the front of the oven is significantly cooler than the back. This means whenever I'm baking anything, I need to rotate it, or it will burn on one side and not be done on the other. And the covers for the burners are ill-fitting, and they often slide around or out when I'm using the burners. This has caused me to burn my hands on many, many occasions, a problem I've never had with any other stove I've ever used.

The crappy metal burner covers aren't the only problem with the burners. It is not possible to keep them ignited at very low levels, so I can't simmer a sauce on low. They won't go very high, either. You can't do a stir-fry on that stove.

The broiler is ridiculously shallow as well, rendering it useless. The actual oven doesn't heat up enough to broil, sigh. Additionally, the thermometer broke years ago, so there is no way of knowing how hot the oven actually is. You have to guess whether it's fully preheated or not.

In short, it's a piece of crap, a profoundly frustrating thing, but I've lived with it rather than replace it out of thrift. Then the oven part failed a couple of weeks ago, right as I was in the act of cooking dinner. The Sober Husband thought at first he could repair it himself, by replacing the thermostat, but that proved not to be the case. After he spent a lot of time and bought some parts, he gave up, and I declared that rather than pay to repair this hellhound of an appliance, I'd rather get another one. Since then we've been limited to using the burners only, which has required some creativity on my part when I held dinner parties with no oven.

I only once bought a stove. At my old house, I lived for a couple of years with a wretched all-electric stove I hated (again from thrift), but when I was fixing up the house to sell, I got a cheap gas stove from Sears. Oh, how I loved that $200 stove. It was infinitely better than the electric stove preceding it (and infinitely better than the crappy Magic Chef I unwillingly cohabit with now). I so much regretted not having swapped stoves years earlier. You'd think I'd have learned from that experience, but evidently the call of thrift is strong. I am from New England, after all.

So now the question we must confront is: do we seize the moment and get a double oven gas stove? Or do we act with financial responsibility and get another $200 Sears stove?

I'm a passionate cook. When I have a dinner party, it's difficult for me to get everything done with only four burners and one oven. If I had a double oven, I would actually use both ovens simultaneously from time to time... unlike everyone I know who actually owns a six burner, double oven range but who doesn't cook.

So I have a new hobby these days: learning about stoves. I will sum my new-found knowledge up for you: there are a wide variety of high end ranges which cost about $8,000 each, and I loathe each and every one of those which I have seen. Evidently the typical range-buyer has one and only one thing on her mind: how is she going to cram a massive, steroidal turkey into her oven and what can she do to get this giant corpse cooked faster. I, on the other hand, am a vegetarian. I do not cook turkeys, crown ribs, or big roasts. I do not need a large oven or a convection oven (which blows air about and is meant to cook meat through faster while keeping it bloody). I cook shorter, denser things like gratins and cakes, which are not going to cook as well in a convection oven.

A high end range sold to Americans is typically 48 inches wide, in large part because it has a big grill on the top. As best as I can determine, the only reason you would need a grill that size is for making two or more pounds of bacon at once. Again, I am a vegetarian. I do not need a huge griddle to strew bacon all over.

Reading websites and stumbling through showrooms, I felt despair. I sincerely hated every Viking, Wolf, or Thermador I saw. I was ready to give up and declare that my tastes in stoves, like so many other things, were hopelessly out of the norm and unsatisfiable. Then I met the Europeans, the Agas and the La Cornues. Both Aga and La Cornue have what seems to me to be just the right sized ranges: both 36 inch and 44 inch ranges. The Aga Legacy does have a terribly shallow broiler which would not be much of an improvement over the deceased stove's broiler, but its side oven can be set to have only heat radiating from the top, which would work well for me. The La Cornue has the best burners I've seen, triple rings of fire in brass settings, a powerful virtue, but its website proclaims "This young *La Cornue* line, born under an especially lucky star, is both valiant and impatient to prove its ability to serve you magnificently and faithfully over a long period of time", which does not inspire my confidence.

Reading reviews, I learned that the Aga 6:4 series sparks a lot of complaints, primarily from British people, but the Legacy, the one I like so much, is well-regarded. The one problem Americans seem to have is not being able to cram in their oversized turkeys. "Tell me how you make an 22 pound turkey in this," one woman lamented. "Please tell me." Aga Legacy, you are now my dream stove.


Anonymous said...

start patrolling urban ore in berkeley?

from time to time, they end up with old wedgewood ovens... while they're still pricey... probably a better deal and better suited for what you likely want... plus they just look cool.


Amy said...

You know, when I bought a car for the first (and so far only) time, I hired a mobile mechanic to pay it a visit and give it a thorough examination. I never regretted this. For $75 (this was in 2000) I was able to buy a confidently buy a cheap car which turned out to work just as wonderfully as the seller claimed it would.

It seems to me you could use a similar approach to find a second hand stove that would satisfy both your passion and your thrift.

the Drunken Housewife said...

I'm not opposed to getting used things. I buy a lot of clothes at second hand stores, and I buy used cars. But here we run into my cooking, and getting a large, good range would give me years of happiness and satisfaction. I do know that when people upgrade their kitchens, they turf out perfectly good ranges, often expensive ones, but given that I haven't seen a Wolf, Viking, Thermador, etc.. that I would want to own, I think the chance I'd find something I want used is very slim.

Also, I've lived without an oven for weeks now, and it is pretty crazy-making. It's very limiting. I wanted to make a cake recently, the children have been wanting to make cookies, on several occasions I wanted to broil things... I can't spend months at this racking up $8 bridge tolls on every outing.

So yes, your point is taken, Dag & Amy, and it is a fine point, but I need a working stove as of weeks ago. And again most upscale stoves are not for me --- they are designed for cramming a giant turkey in and for having a massive grill for splaying out pounds of bacon.

Claire M. Johnson said...

I lived with the world's crappiest stove for a number of years because we were going to do our remodel. Which we eventually did, twelve years after we moved into this house. Anyway, I got a double oven because I like to bake (former pastry chef, you know) and now I cannot imagine living without it. I LOVE HAVING TWO OVENS. Do not skimp on this. Also, word of advice, call an appliance place and ask their advice on brands that need constant repairing. Because they know.

And if I won the lottery, the first thing I'd buy would be an Aga.