*The Amazing Coleman "Analog, No Whistles, No Bells" Camp Oven*
I've been looking for ovens small enough to fit fold up and tuck away and yet big enough to bake biscuits and muffins at least. Thanks to two of our most resourceful Rubies, ones I consider my "go-to" guys, I found the answer to my prayers: the Coleman Camp Stove.
I checked out the local thrift stores in my area first. None to be found. Yard sales aren't all that popular here, so I decided to shop around on eBay. Bingo! I'm not a big eBay fan, but sometimes it has its uses. I compared online prices, included shipping costs and arrived at a price I didn't want to exceed. The top price you should pay is between $50 and $60.
As with most things, I never believe something works until I've tested it myself. "It doesn't work until you've tried it" are words to live by, my friends. That, and the fact that I hadn't used an oven in a couple of years, had me unpacking the box and setting it up within 10 minutes of its arrival at the marina office.
Here's what I found inside, minus the muffins:
This is the view when the oven is set up. In the box, it folds pretty much flat, perhaps one inch thick. All the major pieces are hinged together. The side walls, the bottom and the baking rack all collapse inside the front panel. The back pane snugs up against the front pane to form a neat and compact metal box.
The oven includes a barebones instruction sheet. This is not a problem because putting the oven together is pretty intuitive.
My cooking surface aboard is a propane camp stove affixed to wooden panel. This assembly drops into the place where the original alcohol stove and oven used to be, probably back in the 1970s-80s. After assembling to Coleman oven, I set it atop the lefthand stove burner. I figured centering the oven atop the burner was just a good thing to do. Besides, if I'd tried this on the opposite burner, bad things would have happened to a rather expensive-to-replace mahogany half-bulkhead.
After positioning the oven, I turn on the propane and lit the burner. While the oven was preheating, I mixed up a small yellow cake, enough batter for an eight-inch layer. That's right – an eight-incher. This oven is small. It can roast a chicken but preparing a turkey must remain the stuff of dreams.
The Coleman camp oven features a rudimentary thermometer on its front door. It appears to be accurate but be forewarned. This is not your modern digitally controlled cooking accessory. If you need to lower the temperture, open the oven door. If you need to raise it, turn up the burner on the stove and pray for the best. On the other hand, the oven cools down rapidly, so if you get it too hot for a brief period, you don't really have to worry about scorching the biscuits.
Since the oven is so small, be prepared to either do your baking in two batches or opt for a smaller boxed mix. The little Jiffy-Mix boxes make just enough to fit into this oven. There are mixes that make a half dozen muffins, a few biscuits or an eight-inch cornbread or yellow cake. Myself, I make a batch of Medallion Milk's Master Mix found at:
You still have to fiddle around to make a smaller batch of biscuits or whatever, though.
Okay, the oven has been preheated and the cake batter is ready to go into the cake pan. Let's pretend we're watching a cooking show on TV. ~Shazaaaam!~ Time's up. The cake's ready to come out of the oven.
It took a few minutes longer for the top to brown a little and it's still a little pale. Okay so far. I can live with that. Hmmm, the center fell. This really isn't a problem and it almost expected of a cake whipped up from scratch. Commercial cake mixes seldom fall unless you try to do something bad to them, and it takes a truly evil person to accomplish it. Scratch cakes are a trade-off – a perfectly shaped cake that tastes a little like cardboard, or a lumpy-topped homemade cake that makes you swoon. I'll take "What is swooning?" for $500, Alex.
A couple of days later I decided to try a batch of Sally Lunn in the oven. What the heck is That? It's a kind of muffin batter that you bake in a cake pan instead. I don't have a small 6-cup muffin pan yet, so this was my fall-back position.
Again, the top didn't brown as well as I would have liked. I'll need to do some tinkering with the rack placement, I think. The top assumed a desirable shape, neither sunken nor dome-shaped. While sunken centers are bad in cakes, a domed one is bad news for a muffin and indicates the batter was overstirred. Overall, I'd call the Sally Lunn a success. It was getting chilly at dinnertime last evening and a hot quick bread slathered with butter hit all the right spots.
As for fuel consumption, I don't think I'd rely on the Coleman camp oven for multi-hour baking. According to Coleman and the FNV collected by campers and my own experience, a 1# canister of propane lasts about eight hours. If you connect your stove to a 20# tank, you might feel better about this. This 27-foot sailboat doesn't have room for one as she stands now.
My tips and hints:
Use the stove's burner that allows the most clearance on the sides and the back.
The oven is basically a heavy-gauge metal box. It gets hot during use, so mind your fingers and elbows.
Buy the small boxes of baking mixes to avoid waste and mental confusion.
If that's beyond your expertise, you can find small cardboard tubes of ready-to-bake biscuits in the dairy case.
Buy foil baking pans in quantity at your favorite dollar store. These are handy all the times and especially when you need to ration water.
So, I conquered cakes and muffins, sorta. I'm up for trying mini-pizzas, small-batch lasagne, and my all-time-favorite ricotta-spinach-tomato pie. I haven't had an oven in two years and I'm going a little whack right now.
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