Aga-rophobia. This might mean a fear of wide open spaces to you, but it's a keep-your-distance relationship with our self-important kitchen stove to me. If you want to adjust the heat, it takes half a day to get a result. Cooking breakfast demands a degree in logistical planning. Yet everyone who has an Aga will defend it to the death. Or at least to the final carbonised remnant of yesterday's toast.

Here is a folk tale come true, a bucolic idyll in a suburban setting. Trouble is, chance becomes obligation. If you have left your Aga's lid open for too long, particularly the one over the plate directly above the burner, the hub of your cosy hearth goes tepid on you. Ask it to boil one more pot, and the Aga can't. You'll have to try again tomorrow. With an average lifespan of 40 years, that's a lot of tomorrows.

Warm for the time of year

The idea of a permanent blast furnace in your kitchen might make sense for a Swedish winter, for which environment Dr Gustaf Dalen designed the Aktebolaget Gas Accumulator in 1922, but it's not so clever in the height of summer, as British buyers found when it arrived here seven years later. Its remarkable ability to retain the heat is thanks to generous internal insulation, and its construction from iron cast just down the road from Ironbridge in Shropshire. You can even grill in the top of the roasting oven, such is the heat its top surface radiates. No wonder there are two of them in Antartica. One snag: you can't see what's going on without opening the door.

Despite the affluent, slightly highbrow-cum-alternative middle-class image of its owners, Rebecca Morris, a marketing consultant at Aga, denies there's a stereotype. Albert Roux has one, as do Mary Berry and Pam Ayres. But buyers, she says, fall into three categories: those who recognise it as the best cooking appliance you can buy, those who see it as a status symbol and those who have grown up with one and regard it as an essential. These last folk will no doubt have suffered the pain and pestilence of the coal fire going out from an early age. This torture is spared to most modern Aga-rophiles, because their furnaces are more likely to be fired by gas (most popularly), oil or electricity. And it must be said that an Aga makes rather a good job of cooking your food, once you have the knack. Everything turns out more, well, wholesome. And you can leave food in a lower oven for ages without it drying up.

Don't throw out your microwave

This convenience will set you back from pounds 3,575 to pounds 6,900 for the four- oven electric model, from one of 20 Aga shops. You can chose from nine different colours, but it's most likely you'll choose dark green. And then there are the accessories. One is a kettle with a broad, flat bottom for maximum contact area with the boiling plate which boils spectacularly fast, emitting a strident G-major chord through its built-in whistle. Then there's a griddling plate, baking trays and a pair of hinged-together, wire-mesh circles which constitute a toaster. You place your bread between the circles and sandwich the whole lot between the boiling plate and its lid.

It works, but in the meantime you'll have to boil your egg in the microwave, another jolly useful Aga accessory. You could call it a clash of cultures, or simply chuckle at this dovetailing of disparate technologies