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December 2003 - Head in Oven

Now, as we're just into the month of the great turkey roast, I thought you might be just a little bit impressed if I found a subject which was both topical and useful to those of you who'll be slaving over a hot oven on Christmas morning.

As I'm sure you know, it's always been the intention of Nick Harvey's Comment to be of assistance to you in as many ways as possible, so read on.

I HAD better warn you in advance though, that the assistance in this month's festive edition is not of the positive sort; it's more in the form of advance warning so you don't end up at 10 o'clock on the morning of the 25th with a major problem on your hands.

After all, you've never known Nick Harvey to be TOTALLY helpful in the past, have you?

It's always been a puzzle to me why nobody else has come up with the suggestion I'm about to expound, but I suppose I'll just have to live with the fact that, like in so many other matters, my superb brain seems to come up with these ideas long before anybody else has thought of them.

This particular problem has been worrying me for many years, so I shall now share that worry with you.

It's all about ovens you see. It's a constant puzzle to me why the temperature in gas ovens is so different to that in electric ones; and, for that matter, why there's so much variance between some models of the electric variety.

Is it something to do with the fact that gas comes in nice thick pipes, but electricity has to rely only on those thin wires?

Thinking about it, that's probably the exact answer, because it also explains why the really old electric ones which are still supplied by the ancient lead covered cable need to be turned up so much further in order to cook anything properly.

The answer to the mystery has got to be all to do with the diameter of the tube which supplies the oven with its fuel.

So, in order to ensure that your Christmas turkey is perfectly cooked to a turn, at the precise moment you want to sit down to commence consumption, you will first need to measure the diameter of the fuel feed to your cooker.

Now, I'm afraid I haven't got the time to do all the calculations on your behalf, but I'm sure you'll sort it out quite quickly.

If you start from basics, and the assumption that a modern electric cooker has a cable going to it which is 3mm thick, then it's obvious that the cable to an old electric one is 1.55mm; and the pipe to a gas cooker must be 94mm in diameter.

Using these figures you will soon be able to accurately set your own oven to the correct settings for your turkey.

I've done extensive research to prove these figures correct and I'd now like to explain about my new system of master numbering for food.

If all the manufacturers were to start bringing out ovens with only my new master number system on the dials, it would be much easier in the future to cook anything and everything.

All food would be given one of my master numbers, in the case of turkey it would be 660. On one of the new ovens to be produced, you would simply set it to 660, but for all the older models you would need to convert.

You simply divide the master number by the diameter of the fuel feed to the oven, to get the setting for the one you're using.

In the case of a recent electric model, you take the 660 and divide it by the thickness of the cable which will be 3mm, thus you set your oven to 220. For an older model you'll find the cable is only 1.55mm thick, so you divide 660 by 1.55 and set the oven to the resulting 425.

If your oven's a gas model, divide 660 by the 94mm diameter of the pipe and set it to your answer of a tiny tad over 7.

There you are you see, easy isn't it? Well, to be honest, the answer to that has got to be no!

Although my wonderful master number system seems to work excellently for turkey, the numbers just don't seem to work out so well for certain other things like meringues. I think I'll need to do some more detailed measuring of the fuel feeds before the system is perfect.

What I really want to know is WHY the difference in all the various ovens in the first place?

Could this be yet another example of my favourite people to hate, designers, just not getting their act together in the first place? I rather suspect that's the case and they don't even know how hot their ovens really get themselves, hence all the peculiar numbering.

Let's face it, if they're not sure how hot they are themselves, what better way to ensure they don't get sued by a load if irate housewives with burnt cakes, than to put a completely random set of numbers on the dial which mean completely nothing to everyone.

That's obviously what they decided to do to ensure they weren't doing their next set of designs in cell block "H".

What also puzzles me is the reason for all the numbers in the first place.

If you happen to be the proud owner of one of those Aga or Rayburn stoves where you shove coal in the top to keep it going, you've got little or no control over the oven temperature in any case, but that doesn't stop people cooking things in them.

With a coal fired oven, you just adjust the length of time you leave Terry the turkey or Clarissa the casserole in there.

So, if you don't fiddle about with the temperature of a coal oven, why the heck do we go to all the trouble of worrying about it for gas and electric ones? Just because the designer fitted the damn thing with a knob, that's why!

I reckon the best thing to do with all electric and gas ovens is to turn them up to the maximum setting and rip the knob off. Then you could just turn them on and off when needed from the main switch or the gas tap by the meter.

Then all you've got to worry about is how long to leave things in there in order for them to come out perfectly cooked.

And the answer to that one's ever so easy. You pick up the telephone and ask your friend with the Aga down the road. After all, they've perfected this art of variable cooking times over many years and they're experts.

It also means that ALL of us are cooking to the same rules and all the recipes could be made so much simpler.

No more of this "place in a moderate oven for twenty-two minutes and forty-five seconds" rubbish; they could just say "shove it in and take it out again when it looks done" instead.

All recipe books would therefore be shorter and that would save paper and therefore the world's precious stock of trees. There you are you see, conservation at a stroke!

And with all the ovens running for minimum lengths of time because of the maximum settings, we'd use less energy for them as well.

I'm getting more and more pleased with this solution the more I think about it. Never mind thinking up master numbers for all the world's food products, I think I'll engage myself in going round and ripping the knobs off instead.

I wonder what the chances are of this great idea getting sufficient publicity for all the knobs to be off by Christmas? I'm sure I could persuade a few of you to join me going round the country, helping out with some of the ripping.

I don't think there's much hope of my completing the master number list by the 25th, so I think the ripping is the best option.

Let's face it, we HAVE to have a working solution in place before we commit all those lovely turkeys to their ovens, otherwise we'll have the same chaos as we've had every other year, with angry Dads waving carving knives about at half past three because the damn thing STILL isn't cooked properly.

Send me your offers of assistance at knob-ripping as soon as possible.

I'll co-ordinate the waves of knob rippers who'll sweep the country in an organised attack on disorganised cooking. Together folks, we can solve the whole problem in the three weeks we've got left till the day!

Oven designers beware, we're on the march to counteract the confusion you've spent years in generating! You, and only you, can keep your damn knobs and have cold turkey!

Phew, I was getting a bit worked up there for a moment. Perhaps it's time to calm down a bit and and go and get on with all my other outstanding preparations for the festive season.

Well, assuming I've completed all the ripping, and everything else, I'll be back at the beginning of January with the first epic Comment edition of 2004; so have a good Christmas and I'll catch you all for the New Year. Right, I'm off, where's me stuffing?

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