Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Whistling kettles

I want to talk about the virtues of kettles that heat up on gas hobs, or indeed any kind of hob. And one in particular, one I actually own: a handsome chromed-metal kettle with a curved handle, and a spring-hinged cover on its spout that whistles with escaping steam when the water inside has boiled.

Such kettles used to be ubiquitous. They were usually very utilitarian. But they did the job, and the whistle was part of their no-nonsense appeal. Buying an electric kettle was at first something of a domestic status symbol. The classy one to get was made by Russell-Hobbs, for years a luxury brand. You could imagine the Queen boiling the water for the Duke's early-morning cuppa with a Russell-Hobbs. Eventually the electric kettle went plastic, and became jug-shaped, and later still became a colourful and stylish object of desire. By then the plain metal gas hob kettle had become old-fashioned, its whistle an irritation. It was simply a prop for a gritty 'kitchen sink drama' in a drab flat.

But I suspect that lately the hob kettle has been making a quiet comeback. What else would one use in 2017 with one's expensive new and aspirational Aga or Rayburn? I shall have to look around the posher cookshops of Sussex once home again, to see whether this supposition is correct.

Let me relate now how in the last two days I've come to disinter my own existing gas hob kettle, and bring it to life.

Two days ago my little electric travelling kettle began to leak, which was unsafe, and meant its immediate consignment to the bin. The gas hob kettle, bought years ago but rarely used, had always lain in the bottom of the caravan wardrobe, awaiting just such an emergency. For that's how I saw it. My knee-jerk reaction was to treat the death of my electric kettle as a minor catastrophe: the gas hob kettle would do for one night, but I'd have to rush off to purchase a new electric kettle the very next day.

However, overnight I changed my mind. I'd rediscovered that the gas hob kettle was actually a good option. I can't use a full-sized, quick-boiling electric kettle in the caravan. It has to be a puny one that doesn't draw a big current, otherwise the caravan's mini consumer unit will eventually (as it did in 2013) melt a switch. So although operational convenience had been on its side, the small electric kettle took a long time to boil up a decent amount of water. If I wanted water to boil potatoes in, or hot water to wash up with, or indeed hot water for washing myself in, it took ages and I tended to sit down and get on with something else for a while. But I noticed that the hob kettle not only boiled up more water in one go, it did it faster.

There were side-benefits too. Suddenly the kitchen area of my caravan seemed decluttered. Water left inside the kettle stayed hot for longer afterwards, so that reboiling it for, say, a second cup of tea was quite rapid. And as I was heating water without in any way involving the electrics, it was now possible to boil the hob kettle and use the hair-drier at the same time, without tripping the consumer unit. And not least, the mirror-like chrome had great photographic possibilities!


There was also that whistle. It was a comforting, homely sound. It evoked many memories. It was different. I liked it.

The only downside, so far as I could see, was the greater use of propane gas. But I'd very recently bought a replacement 6kg propane gas cylinder for only £17.49. I had expected it to last a year and a half. Did it matter that it would now last only a year? That was still an average of less than £2 per month. I couldn't worry about an amount so small.

Next question: what about getting a beautiful modern gas hob kettle for my home in Sussex? Was that worth doing? It seemed an attractive idea; but I already had a full-sized and fast-boiling electric kettle, plastic but still newish, which did the job admirably. And domestic gas wasn't cheap. I'd have to think about it.


  1. We've had reason to dig out our gas kettle at home when we've had quite a few visitors at one time. Our electric one mug at a time kettle just doesn't cut the mustard at times like that. The gas kettle has also seen service in the past when we've needed to boil water and then let it cool down slightly before using, something that is ideal with a gas kettle available because it leaves the electric one free for making hot drinks.

  2. You can do so many exciting things with 'old fashioned' kettles. When I was a kid I used to attach a pipe to the spout and drive wheels and propellers. Now, when kettles boil they turn off and ruin all the fun.


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