Sara & Lilli Cashman
Step into the Cashman's 1870 "Ripplevale" homestead fitted with stained-glass windows, cathedral ceilings and a Dark Blue 4-oven AGA Cooker in the country town of Birregurra.
About 2 hours South West of Melbourne and on the way to the Great Ocean Road lives a small country-farm town of Birregurra, home to Sara Cashman and family. Owners of MidWest Meats in Colac, the family run the paddock to place produce business with their farm as their backyard. Their homestead is called “Ripplevale”, which they’ve lived in for 11 years, and was originally settled by Sir Charles Sladen in 1870, an earlier Premier of Melbourne who used this home as his family country estate. “Ripplevale is a really special place. This home has only been in five families including ours. The house has a Dutch Italianate Influence and has a blue stone foundation but with red brick; everything in it was brought from England. It currently has 6 acres of heritage gardens which was created by famous Australian landscape gardener William Guilfoyle.” Ripplevale even had its own school on the property until it got closed down when Birregurra Primary School was built in the 1860’s. There is a massive orchard and kitchen garden on the farm, always blooming with seasonal vegetables, which Sara promises she will show me before I leave.
“We always had a picture of the dream AGA sitting next to the Rayburn, then eventually the dream came true.”
It’s a long way down the drive way before I reach Ripplevale. From the outside, the homestead looks exactly like you would image. Picturesque, like a home you would expect to see in a Country-style magazine. The driveway and front garden are perfectly groomed by their gardener, and the flowers are vibrant in the Sun and very well kept. I am greeted by Sara, the eldest of her three children Lilli and two of her four poodles. The inside of Ripplevale is equally as stunning as the exterior. I feel so welcome and warm, and as I mentioned to Sara and Lily countless times “It looks like a Castle”. The interior has basically stayed the same since it was built, with only a few touch ups here and there to keep it looking perfect and a bit of decorating to add a more modern feel. Each room has a different colour scheme, Baroque wallpaper and furniture included, which keeps you guessing what the next room will look like. And it’s filled with cathedral ceilings, stained-glass windows and enormous sandstone and marble fireplaces.
After the home tour concludes, we end up in the “heart of the home” - the Kitchen. Timber benches, cupboards and furnishings compliment the stunning Dark Blue 4-oven AGA cooker with the Freestanding module sitting separate in the other corner. The tiles surrounding the AGA were hand painted to directly match the colour of the AGA. “The reason we chose a Dark Blue AGA is because that is the same colour actress Agatha Christie had in England. I watched her biography movie and she was standing next to her Dark Blue AGA. So, when I ordered my AGA I wanted the same.”
“ I love the look of it and I love how it cooks.”
Sara has prepared some beautiful freshly baked scones with jam and cream that have just been removed from the AGA, still warm on the inside and crisp on the outside. Sara is a long-time member of the CWA (Country Women’s Association) and runs her own Instagram account @countryproducepantry where she highlights her main passion: cooking. She loves growing her own seasonal produce (evident in her amazing orchard and vegetable garden), and loves creating jams, jellies and chutneys for her family, friends and neighbours. “We love driving up to Melbourne to get food inspiration from the cafes and restaurants and visiting the markets. But I’m quite lucky as my neighbours and I often trade produce. I’ll come home and find a bag of quinces etc on my back door, so then I’ll create a quince jam and share it with our neighbours. The nice thing about living on a farm is your neighbours always have extra produce which they bring around for everyone to enjoy. And they know they’ll end up with a nice jar of sauce or jam in return.”
When the Cashman’s first moved in, there was a Rayburn Wood-Fire stove already installed which Sara cooked on for many years, but she knew she needed to replace it with an AGA. “I was constantly going to the Prahran showroom to buy things for the Rayburn, it’s one of my favourite shops to visit. And we always had a picture of the dream AGA sitting next to the Rayburn, then eventually the dream came true. I love the look of it and I love how it cooks.” Their AGA was installed in 2013 with its “friend” the AGA Freestanding Gas Module, which they refer to as the Summer Oven.
“The Simmering Oven creates so much flavour from that slow cooking time and everything just melts together.”
“The AGA really works for my lifestyle. I’ve even convinced most of my friends to get one! It’s the heart of the family and we use it every day. My kids get upset when I turn it off, because they are so used to it continuously being turned on.” Lilli tells me that her mum always feels like she should be cooking because the oven is on. “We would come home and there would be food cooking in each oven, and even something cooking on the hotplates. Every time I would come home on the weekend there would be a million things cooking.” Sara’s favourite things to cook for herself and her family are bread (“the kids love it when I take it straight out of the oven and it’s still warm, paired with all my home-made jams”), pizza with homemade dough cooked straight on the floor of the roasting oven, and a simple toasted sandwich. “People think it would be so hard to make bread in an AGA but it’s so incredibly easy! The lid of the Simmering Plate proofs the dough, and you just put it in the Roasting Oven; its beautiful.”
Sara’s favourite oven is the Simmering Oven and everything she cooks is created in the Simmering Oven, including casseroles, curries and stews. “The Simmering Oven was the biggest thing I had to adapt to because I had never used a slow cooker before. But I love it now. I can wake up in the morning, prepare a beautiful roast or leg of lamb, season it with my homemade jelly and herbs, place it in the Roasting Oven for 30 minutes to sear, then put it in the Simmering Oven, leave it there for 6 hours and its beautiful and perfectly ready for dinner time. It’s the best leg of lamb I’ve ever had; the Simmering Oven creates so much flavour from that slow cooking time and everything just melts together.”
“The AGA gives you more leniency.”
Sara’s “second favourite thing ever” is her AGA Preserving Pot which she makes vegetable and chicken stocks from. Cooking them for 6 hours on the Simmering Plate, and developing intense flavours using onions, celery, various vegetables and even a whole chicken. “The stocks are prepared on the Simmering Plate, bought to the boil on the Boiling Plate then popped into the Simmering Oven overnight. And I get the best stock that I’ve ever had - it’s just divine. Risotto is also amazing on the Simmering Plate because it won’t burn, the heat is just so gentle. The Simmering Plate is also great for a gravy or a béchamel sauce – you can walk away and leave it there to cook. Whereas if your using a regular gas stove, you don’t have that flexibility. The AGA gives you more leniency.”
“The AGA just adapts and fits in to our lifestyle.”
A large homestead like Ripplevale benefits so much from an AGA. In winter it provides a lot of heat and comfort, and it just seemed like the right oven for their house. “I don’t think I could not have an AGA even if I lived in the Northern Territory, it’s where all our memories are made!” It’s evident Sara cooks from passion and really loves cooking for her friends and family. All her cooking successes comes from her loving what she’s doing and what she’s cooking. She loves creating new things and loves finding new recipes and old historical recipes.
“The AGA and I have the best of times together! When I used to host dinner parties with my regular oven, I was stuck at the oven and could not interact with guests. However with my AGA, that also boasts a Warming Oven and Warming Plate I can just leave everything in the ovens cooking and warming and enjoy my party. The AGA just keeps on adapting to my families country lifestyle. My family and guests constantly gravitate to our AGA, I’m not sure if its the warmth or the food.”
“I don’t think I could not have an AGA even if I lived in the Northern Territory, it’s where all our memories are made!”
Images and words by Paula Vinci.