My mother, a frugal woman, used to bake it for dinner. Made with a little brown sugar and cloves, we thought we were dining on a fine cut of baked ham though this formed pork product was only an inexpensive substitute. The original recipe for "Baked Spam" is still printed on the side of its tins today.
More than 5 billion cans of it have been produced since it was introduced in 1937. In his biography, Nikita Kruschchev credited American shipments of it with keeping his army alive. What is it? It's been described as "a pink brick of meat encased in a gelatinous coating." ("I'm a Spam Fan, America's Best-Loved Foods" by Carolyn Wyman. Longmeadow Press. 1993)It was "born" at a New Years' Eve party when Kenneth Daigneau, brother of a Hormel Foods vice president, took the first two letters of the word "spiced" and the last two letters of the word "ham" and coined the name "Spam." The new product was then known as Hormel spiced ham. The canned luncheon meat gained major notoriety when 100 million pounds of it was shipped to Russian, European and American troops during World War II. The phenomenal tinned meat became popular on the home front as well since there was a scarcity of beef and it was being conserved.
But how did it come about? Legend has it that Hormel had several thousand pounds of pork shoulder lying around their meat-packing plant and they didn't know what to do with it. A bright, Hormel executive came up with the idea of chopping the pork shoulder up, tossing in some ham and spices and canning it in a clear gelatin casing so it would keep almost indefinitely. And the rest, as they say, is history.
SPAM® has become an American folk icon. In 1948 a group called "The Hormel Girls," a 60 member performing troupe, entertained people across the country. In Austin, Minnesota, Geo. A. Hormel & Company's hometown and birthplace of SPAM® luncheon meat, a SPAM JAM® is held each year. Nine-hundred miles south in Austin, Texas, an annual SPAMORAMA® event draws thousands of SPAM® luncheon meat connoisseurs. Hawaiians have their annual Maui Mall SPAM® luncheon meat cook-off and in Seattle, Washington, residents flock to their yearly SPAM® luncheon meat celebration. In 1991 the annual State Fair Best of SPAM® Recipe Competition debuted and today the contest includes 77 states and regional fairs.
SPAM® luncheon meat has been the butt of many jokes from a comic bit on David Letterman (Spam-on-a-Rope for people who like to lunch in the shower), to a Monty Python sketch. Comedians today still make fun of the canned meat with the funny sounding name. And, the folks at Hormel weren't too pleased when the word "spam" was adopted by Internet users as a reference to unsolicited messages. Still, it's the most popular canned luncheon meat on America's supermarket's shelves. No one can explain it, least of all its creators.
According to V. Allan Krejci, director of public relations for Hormel Foods, "There is no single reason for the huge popularity of SPAM® luncheon meat. I think it's a mixture of the product's heritage, its versatility and the fact that it's a high quality, good-tasting food."
Hormel Foods is currently constructing SPAM® luncheon meat's very own web site in honor of its longevity and popularity. Watch for it at http://www.spam.com. What you'll find there now is a nifty SPAM® merchandise catalog to browse through. Or if you'd like a free hard copy of the catalog, call (800) 686-SPAM.
You may purchase a SPAM® cookbook at the web site cited above. Here's a peek at two summertime recipes you'll find in it:
1 (12 ounce) can of SPAM® Luncheon Meat
6 hamburger buns, split
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
6 lettuce leaves
6 (1-ounce) slices American cheese
Slice SPAM® into 6 slices (3 x 1/4 inches). In large skillet, sauté SPAM® until lightly browned. Spread mayonnaise on buns. Layer remaining ingredients on bun bottoms. Cover with bun tops.Makes 6 servings.
1 (12 ounce) can SPAM® Luncheon Meat, finely cubed
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese, divided
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
12 slices rye bread
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 tomato, thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced, separated into rings
In medium bowl, combine SPAM®, 1/2 cup Swiss cheese, celery, bell pepper, mayonnaise and thyme; mix well. Spread each bread slice on one side with butter. Spread 1/2 cup SPAM® mixture on unbuttered side of each of 6 bread slices. Top each with tomato slices, onion rings and about 1 tablespoon of the remaining 1/2 cup Swiss cheese. Top with remaining bread slices, buttered side up. In large skillet or griddle over medium heat, cook sandwiches until cheese melts and sides are golden brown.
Makes 6 servings.
Here's a SPAM® recipe I found on the Internet. Does anyone remember this popular 60's Devilled Spam Spread? It was a staple appetizer at many parties and college soirees.
1 can SPAM® luncheon meat
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1/4 lb. cubed Velveeta or other process cheese
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup catsup
1 teaspoon minced onion
Mash together and mix all ingredients well. (You may want to use a food processor.)
Use as spread on crackers or spread on potato rolls, cover tightly with foil and heat at 350 degrees.
After I finished this column, Hormel sent me some more recipes which you can access here: Hormel SPAM Recipes.
I'll be back in September with a look at another meat product phenomenon—scurrilous and scary—Scrapple.
Text Copyright 1996 Lynn Kerrigan. No portion of this article may be reproduced for publication without express, written permission of the author.
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