Travel to the Tasmanian country-side and into the Huon Valley home of acclaimed food writer Michelle Crawford, her Family, and her Rayburn 355SFW wood fire cooker.
Through the middle of the city in Hobart and into the beautiful countryside of the Huon Valley, we took a drive to visit acclaimed food writer, food stylist, and food consultant Michelle Crawford.
Michelle is no stranger to the social media world. She has garnered a large following on Instagram from sharing relatable and genuine stories about her passions: her family, food, home and the magnificent country side. She’s also written food and Tasmanian tourism articles for countless magazines, writes recipes for food companies, and teaches cooking classes. “I work mostly with food. So, I’m always thinking about food.”
Greeted in the driveway by her adorable dog, we enter the family’s rustic-style home. Built in 1910, the old weatherboard home was part of a large orchard farm over 100 years ago; the Crawford’s purchased it in 2008. “When we bought the house, it looked completely different. It was a very different style to what we have now, but we always wanted to put in a wood oven so over the years we sort of chipped away at making a home that we really loved.”
Walking into the home and straight into the kitchen, all eyes are immediately drawn to the Cream Rayburn 355SFW wood-fire cooker firing away in the open-plan kitchen. The home is incredibly warm and inviting, filled with plants, paintings and timber furniture – exactly how you would envision the home of Michelle Crawford. Her beautiful Rayburn Stainless Steel Kettle boiling on the hotplate, a position it often finds itself in throughout the winter days. The smell of in-season cauliflower, tomatoes, mushrooms roasting away in the Main Oven fills the kitchen, ready to be served with fresh sourdough bread from Michelle’s favourite bakery in town.
“Nothing ever burns or dries out when you cook in the Rayburn; I love that it’s a very a forgiving oven.”
We sit down for a cup of tea and dig into a spread of local cheeses, the perfectly roasted vegetables and bread, and the chatter quickly turns to “The Oven”.
I ask Michelle why she bought a Rayburn. “Actually, I always wanted an AGA; I remember watching a TV show back in 2000, Design Icons of the 20th century. They featured the Coke Bottle, The Stiletto and the AGA: celebrating how it’s such an innovative oven and its fascinating history, especially on farms in England. It was the quintessential country style oven which is something that I always wanted. When we further researched AGA and realised you couldn’t run them on wood, that’s when we switched to the Rayburn. I love the old-fashioned technology matched with the solidness of it and that’s why we chose it.” And for the colour? “I love the classic cream because its timeless and I really think it suits this kitchen.”
The Crawford’s also wanted an oven that could heat their hot water, run their radiators and cook beautiful food. They bought the Rayburn 7 years ago and connected it up to their hot water first, then put the radiators in a few years later. “It works really well. The Rayburn heats our hot water all year round, we cook on it in the winter and radiators heat the whole house. And I’m very lucky my husband chops the wood. But I really wish I could cook on it in summer. When we’ve had a lot of hot weather it gets a little too warm inside so we don’t use it continuously and do I miss it. We only light it every third night to heat the hot water.”
”Anything that you cook in the oven is going to taste delicious.”
It isn’t long before the topic changes to Michelle’s number one passion: food. Her favourite food to cook on the Rayburn is Toast. But also loves baking cakes in the Rayburn. “Cakes don’t dry out at all. I love that you can put a cake in the oven and you can forget about it, go pick up the kids, put a load of washing on and then you remember the cake is still in the oven. But it hasn’t burnt! Nothing ever burns or dries out; the radiant heat is brilliant for retaining moisture, so most things you cook in it taste better whether it’s a sponge cake or roast chicken. I love that it’s a very a forgiving oven.”
Rayburn wood-fire cookers are very multi-purpose, there’s not a lot they can’t do. “I love that it heats the house, runs the hot water and cooks. It gives the Kitchen a home-y feel. But I also love that you can put the kid’s sneakers in lower oven to dry and you can fold up the linen and put it on the hotplate lids and it does the ironing. It’s just so versatile!”
The Rayburn makes you think about being more thrifty and economical. By always having it fired up, you try to think about what you can do next to make the most of the heat. “You can make yogurt and sourdough in the warming oven, or dry tomatoes, herbs or chillies. I guess you want to make the most of the oven when it’s on, so it helps me to be more organized, I can put a casserole in the oven in the morning, go out for the day and it’s ready by dinner, it’s the best kind of slow-cooker.” Michelle also has the Rayburn to thank for increased passion for cooking. “I really love feeding people and there’s a feeling of country generosity when you cook on it that you don’t get when your cooking on a modern stainless-steel oven.”
“It would be very sad if I did have to lose my Rayburn. It’s a part of our family.”
A phrase that always goes hand-in-hand with a Rayburn or AGA cooker is that it becomes part of the family and it’s the heart of the home. So many life long memories and stories are made around a Rayburn that you can never forget. “I have a lot of memories of when the children were little, and they would sit on little chairs in front of the Rayburn and read their books and I’d cook them little pikelets directly on the slow end of hot plate. And watching them leaning up against the Rayburn when they were little in their pyjamas on a cold winter’s morning because it was so warm; it was very cute. It’s a fond memory I have. It would be very sad if I did have to lose my Rayburn. It’s a part of our family. We always joke that if the house is on fire, my husband will grab the kids and I’ll get the Rayburn.”
Images and words by Paula Vinci.