Recipe for stove problems: Call on an expert repairperson

#576 in a series of true experiences in real estate
January 2009, Hills Newspapers

I spent $800 on repairing my kitchen stove recently. Hard to believe repairs cost that much but I think it was worth it because I like the stove. It’s an older chrome-topped, 4-burner Wedgewood that’s heavy – that is, not tinny – and all burner fires go from very low simmer to high and hot. Plus it looks right in my comfy-cabin sort of kitchen.

Years ago there was an old-stove man whose name was Mr. Laurilla. I’ve had a few old stoves in different kitchens, and although they are sturdy and don’t need much in the way of upkeep, occasionally Mr. Laurilla was needed. He came in his big old car, a Cadillac I think, the large trunk of which was filled with old stove parts.

Mr. Laurilla himself was old. It seemed like he’d been fixing stoves for a very long time. He’d go back and forth from his “patient” to the supplies, and before too long, for a small amount of money, everything was working right again.

I certainly missed Mr. Laurilla after he was gone. Especially lately after my daughter Annabelle came home to live for awhile and got into using my Wedgewood for baking. Annie is young and self-confident, and although inexperienced at cooking, if it’s in a cookbook, she assumes she can make it. I do admire this quality. Annie baked many types of cookies and cupcakes, then moved on to her first pies, even bagels.

Everything kept burning. She’d get one batch out in time but the next was burned. We turned down the heat. We checked every 5 minutes, but it got to the point where we knew the last pan would have to be thrown out. So I called a stove repair place, G & S Heating & Cooling and two polite men arrived. While one silently knelt and took apart the lower reaches of my stove, the other told me what should have been obvious to me but somehow wasn’t. The thermostat was shot.

I think the way this works is that the thermostat turns off the gas when the oven is at the right temperature. But in this case it was broken so the oven just kept getting hotter and hotter. No wonder things were burning.

The nice man said a new thermostat costs $250 for the part (just like my car mechanic tells me when I take my car in) plus the labor of course. They could order the part and have it in a couple of days. I don’t remember how I happened to call these particular people but I’m glad I did. They told me that they do no advertising – all word of mouth and many customers, hundreds in San Francisco alone, all old stoves, mostly Wedgewood.

In for a penny, in for a pound, I figured. I asked if they could also repair the springs on the oven door so it couldn’t flop open. And what about one burner that had stopped going from low to high? Yes, they could get new door springs, the burner valve should be replaced, and everything could be done at the same time. Total parts: $570 + tax. Labor added $200.

I gave them a deposit. What else could I do? Buy a new stove? There are new stoves for this price but they aren’t the stoves I want. Search for stove parts on the Internet? But I’d still have to find someone to put them in.

Exactly as promised, the man who had been disassembling and looking at the stove the first day, was back and in short order, he fixed everything. When he moved the stove away from the wall, we could see a brown mark in the drywall – the start of a burn? It was scary. Anyway, all fixed now.

My daughter came home from work that day and got out her cookbook and considered what to make. She decided on chocolate chiffon layer cake. “It says the oven should be at 350,” she said. “Do I need to turn it down to 325?”

“No need,” I told her, “the temp will be perfect now.” And so it is. At Christmas, Annie made batches of gougère, bites of choux pastry classically stuffed with sweetened cream as cream puffs but in this case, no cream; instead, grated cheese and a little paprika. Gougères are both chewy and crisp, and taste delicious. She took some to her friends at work and made a couple of batches for home, too. No burning in the oven either. Simply perfect.

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