Reprinted with permission by Gil Gilpatrick. Originally published in the Northwoods Sporting Journal September 2014
Through the years of guiding folks on Maine’s rivers I found
that one of the things that amazed some people was having freshly baked biscuits, bread, cakes, etc. on a camping trip. I did this, of course, with a reflector oven. I want to insert here that the oven is more properly called a campfire baker. Since many of the people went out with me so they could learn how to do it themselves, the natural question from them was where they could get a campfire baker. They were not readily available.
Finally, in the early 2000’s I heard from a guy named Harley Sproul from Lincoln, Maine. He was manufacturing the Sproul Baker and had them for sale. I even listed him as a source in some of my books. Sadly, around 2004 Harley discontinued production of his bakers and I was left again without a source to recommend to people. When it was time to republish my book, Building Outdoor Gear, I decided I could at least show people how to build their own baker, which I did. This at least gave folks a source if they could do it themselves.
Then, in the spring of 2011, after over a year of communications, Harley came to an agreement with Chas Gill who took over the business in the fall of 2012, continuing the “Sproul Baker” legacy.
What makes the “Sproul Baker” so successful is its elegant and simplistic design. Easy to assemble, collapse and store it is truly a marvel of engineering. Its tinned steel construction makes it lightweight (2 lbs 4 ozs), rugged and sturdy allowing a single unit to be enjoyed by generations of outdoor people.
Reflector ovens have been around since Maine woodsmen and river drivers started harvesting Maine's forests, starting back in the early 19th century. On the river drives all meals were prepared outdoors and the only way they could prepare baked goods was with the reflector oven, which they called bakers. Depending on the size of the crew to be fed, there could be as many as four bakers around the cook fire at one time with the main meal cooking in a pot hung from a tripod over the fire. No better outdoor baking method has since been invented and with the proper procedure the results are always excellent.
Chas Gill is well acquainted with reflector oven baking from his many years, spent working at the Wilderness Bound camp owned and operated by Pierce Pond camps. Every summer Chas would lead groups of 12-20 campers on treks around the Allagash and Katahdin areas. Chas knew well that the key to a fun and enjoyable trip is the quality of food. During these adventures, Chas would use his reflector oven to bake biscuits, cornbread, brownies, cake, and even fresh raspberry and blueberry pies for the ravenous campers. Chas is currently working on recipe book based on Harley Sproul’s original Reflector Oven cookbook!
You can learn more about the Sproul Baker from Chas Gill, 50 Point Road, Bowdoinham, ME 04008. Or go on line at: www.campfirecookware.com. The cost of the baker is $149.50 and that includes the collapsible baker, canvas travel bag, manual, and a baking pan. You get a reliable Maine made product from a guy who knows what he is doing. You will not be sorry. I took one on a recent trip and it worked great!
Gil Gilpatrick is a Master Maine Guide, and is the first living recipient of the Legendary Maine Guide award. He is a life member of the Maine Professional Guides Association, a founding member of the Maine Wilderness Guides Organization, and served as a member of the Advisory Board for the Licensing of Guides from 1996 to 2010. He is a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and is the author of seven outdoor-related books. Contact him at Gil@GilGilpatrick.com.