Caroline Gabriel and Shaun Bowden

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“The front garden is filled with perfumed flowers and when I smelled all the wisteria and all the jasmine out the front, I was sold and completely fell in love with it.”

What was once a Miner’s cottage, in the middle of Ballarat, around the corner from the Eureka Stockade, and by the creek that would normally find miners panning for gold, lives Caroline Gabriel and Shaun Bowden. Their 1860’s house remains untouched; the exterior and interior is still in it’s original condition, even down to the roof. The only additions are an AGA 60 Black all-electric cooker called Agatha in the kitchen, and a dishwasher. The rest remains, holding on to its amazing history and narrative. Caroline and Shaun are both nurses, have been for the past 30 years, and met in a hospital in Adelaide where they were training. Caroline was born in India and moved to Adelaide with her family when she was 12. Shaun was born and raised in Adelaide. In 1995, they both moved to Melbourne to work and live, and resided in Southbank. “About four years ago, we decided we wanted to move out of the CBD, and into more of a country town. We still wanted to be close enough to Melbourne so we could visit family and friends. And we needed to be near a train station. Caroline started looking at houses and found this one.” “It had beautiful wisteria out the front of the house and it was all purple. I was attracted to it straight away. I walked in the front gate and I loved it, there was a great vibe about it. It was so cosy. The house was empty, but I could envision what it would look like. The front garden is filled with perfumed flowers and when I smelled all the wisteria and all the jasmine out the front, I was sold and completely fell in love
with it.”

 
 
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“We always wanted an AGA, so it didn’t take much to reel us in.”

Shaun is the baker, responsible for the incredible bread I haven’t been able to stop talking about at the office. His secret: when you place the bread into the Roasting Oven, throw a couple of ice cubes into the bottom of the oven. This will create the gorgeous golden crust on top and maintain its moisture inside. “I make fresh bread in the AGA every weekend. I’ve always been a baker; that’s one of the reasons I wanted an AGA. We entered the AGA competition last year, and that’s how the desire for an AGA started. After that, AGA had a sale so we went to the Prahran showroom to browse. We were basically sold. We always wanted an AGA, so it didn’t take much to reel us in.” Caroline is the cake-maker, renowned for the Vegan Lemon & Coconut Cake she made me, which I have made myself three times now. (Recipe here) “My favourite thing to cook with my AGA is 100% cakes. I’m a very old-fashioned baker; I make a lot of sponge cakes, scones and biscuits – all the English afternoon tea desserts. I love having tea-parties and collecting tea cups. I haven’t had one cake ruined yet from the AGA, and I’ve made a lot. It’s an even, gentle temperature. The AGA perfectly cooks my cakes, not one side of the cake is browner than the other.” Casseroles are frequent in the Gabriel household due to the sheer simplicity. “Casseroles are great because the Simmering Oven is amazing. I haven’t used our pressure cooker since we got the AGA; we don’t need it. You start the casserole on the Hotplate, then into the Simmering Oven and you leave it there. You can leave the house with the oven on, and you know it won’t burn or overcook. When you get back home, it’s ready.”

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“There is a misconception about AGA’s…if you want something to cook slow, it cooks slow. But if you want something to cook quick, it cooks quick.”

If I’d visited Caroline and Shaun’s home pre-AGA, I would have found the benches filled with gadgets such as a bread-maker, kettle and toaster. Now, the benches are perfectly empty. Shaun has always been a gadget person, but thanks to the AGA, it’s allowed them to get rid of those appliances and free more space. “I’ve always loved gadgets; I had the bread maker and the whole lot. But now with the AGA, we’ve got rid of all our gadgets. I make the bread by hand. No toaster, no kettle. You wake up in the morning, put the kettle on and about 16 minutes later you have this beautiful boiling kettle. It doesn’t take long at all. There is a misconception about AGA’s; that they are slow and take time to cook. Whereas, it’s not like that. If you want something to cook slow, it cooks slow. But if you want something to cook quick, it cooks quick.”

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“We understood the AGA so quickly; I think you must really want an AGA to truly understand how it works.”

Caroline and Shaun know the term pressure – they got their AGA installed two weeks before Christmas and had to quickly experiment and figure out how to use it before they cooked and baked for their whole family on Christmas Day. “We didn’t know how to use the AGA. We hadn’t even been to any AGA classes, so thank god for the Mary Berry cookbook. And YouTube; we watched many AGA tutorials on YouTube. We had a trial run before Christmas of the food we were going to make, and it all turned out amazing. The first dish we made in our AGA was a lemon drizzle cake from Mary Berry’s cookbook just to get the hang of it, and it was beautiful. The next dish was a roast. We understood the AGA so quickly; I think you must really want an AGA to truly understand how it works. What we love, is that we can fit everything in the oven. Especially when you’re cooking for a lot of people. The previous oven we had, we would have to cook the meat first, then take it out and put the cakes in, then take that out and put the potatoes in. Whereas, all our food can go straight in at the same time, and there is no cross over of tastes or smells, and no issues of size. The food all went in together, and all came out together. It wasn’t me standing next to the oven all day trying to juggle everything; we could have a relaxing Christmas and trust the AGA was doing its job.”

 
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“If you cook a lot, and enjoy cooking, I think the AGA’s are worth the investment. It’s so fun experimenting.”

The AGA cooker fits perfectly into the cottage aesthetic Caroline and Shaun were longing for. It’s a black AGA 60, the 60cm cooker slotting perfectly into their small kitchen. “We were so glad the small size was available because the big AGA’s just wouldn’t fit. Everything about the AGA is perfect for us, the fact that you can switch it on and off when you need. And the flexibility of the dual oven up the top: the option of roasting and baking is so easy to switch between. It’s just knowing the ovens take an hour to heat up. For example, if I’m making bread, I turn it on when I start making the bread. By the time the bread has proofed, it’s ready to bake. I also love how you don’t have to cook everything on the hotplate, if you’re frying onions for example you can start them off on the hotplate and then move them into the ovens to finish cooking. If you cook a lot, and enjoy cooking, I think the AGA’s are worth the investment. It’s fun experimenting. We watch Betty Twyford’s YouTube videos, and we’ve learnt many different methods that we hadn’t thought of before. Like drying out tomatoes in the Simmering Oven or steaming asparagus on the Hotplate with ice cubes.”

 
 
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“We are still learning where to put things in the oven, but we look forward to waking up everyday and deciding what to cook, and we lovely cooking together.”

Caroline and Shaun’s’ cottage is quaint and cosy, much like the street they are living on. Inside is warm and beautifully decorated with flowers. The colour palate is mostly white, with the vibrancy of the décor bouncing off the walls and filling each room with colour. In the kitchen, it’s white benches and walls, with the Black AGA standing out but also fitting in effortlessly. “The AGA is a big feature of the kitchen. We were originally going to get the Cream colour, but I don’t think it would have worked with the colour scheme. Black is neutral, but also timeless. The AGA has been put to very good use; it’s like having a friend in the kitchen. She’s always there and ready to cook; she’s a very big helper. She even cleans herself!”

I love hearing the different stories of how AGA owners utilize their cookers. I always learn something new and I’m constantly amazed at how the AGA truly is more than just a cooker. “The top corner of the AGA is the perfect temperature to melt chocolate and butter or proof dough – it’s nice and warm. The other day I made a cake for Easter and had to warm up jam, so I just sat it on the corner, and it warmed up perfectly. The AGA is multipurpose and does so many things like a friend would; it becomes a massive part of your home. It’s something that we use every single day, all day. Its on all the time, and you can always rely on it. The AGA has taught us a new way of cooking. We are still learning where to put things in the oven, but we look forward to waking up everyday and deciding what to cook, and we lovely cooking together. It’s exciting to practise and experiment. We have always been passionate cooks, but the AGA has increased our passion for cooking. It’s satisfying taking something out of the AGA that is perfectly cooked.”

“It’s satisfying taking something out of the AGA that is perfectly cooked.”

Follow Caroline and her cottage on Instagram here.

Images and words by Paula Vinci.