I am going to come to the defense of Spam. No, not that horrid unwanted email and text advertising, goodness no. I am talking about the humble meat product made by the good folks at Hormel. SPAM, if we are going to go with their trademarked name. Someone has to say something nice about it and I guess it is going to be me.
I have shared before that when I was young my mother worked outside the home. Even before that she did not claim cooking as one of her more developed skills. As a result I grew up eating quite a few things that came in boxes and cans (as opposed to things from dirt and hooves that other children my age ate frequently).
Canned meat products and boxed pasta dishes were staples at dinner time (or supper time for some of you). Unless my mother’s potato soup was on the menu, but I would rather not revisit that terrible memory. Spam was always a welcome word in the kitchen where young me put fork to plate.
My sister and I used to fight over who got to open the can. In the 1960s and ’70s the can was opened with a key. The little metal key was fastened somehow to the can. The winner got to pry the key from the can, thread the little bendable ribbon of metal into the slot in the key and then start twisting. The key would peel a little band of metal away, separating the can from the lid. Unless the little band of metal broke off, in which case pliers were called for. I am in awe of the guy who invented that packaging. And it was so much easier to get the can-shaped loaf out after 1/3 of the can had been removed.
My mother would usually fry it. My grandma, however, would sometimes make “Spam sandwiches” which consisted of cold Spam sliced right out of the can on white bread with some mustard. I will confess that my mouth is watering just a bit as I type this. Hey, we can’t always control these things.
My Mrs., on the other hand, is pretty good in the kitchen. When we were first married I continued my old habit – when something was put down in front of me I would (usually) eat it. One day she asked me a hard question. “You always eat what I make, but you never tell me what you would like? Isn’t there something your mom made that you would like me to make for you?”
It was a hard question, as I said. I had to think for a moment before my reply: Fried Spam with Macaroni and Cheese. Not the kind of macaroni and cheese that is made from scratch, baked in a casserole dish and would be a proudly featured dish at any church basement pitch-in. I was talking about the cheap stuff in the blue box that had cost nineteen cents the last time I paid attention.
The look on her face was hilarious. But she was a good sport and soon I was eating food like mother used to make. And loving it. In fact, fried Spam with box mac & cheese has been more or less in the rotation for coming on twenty-eight years. I have never suggested a cold Spam sandwich. Mrs. JPC has her limits.
When our kids were in grade school our eldest was reading a book that mentioned Spam. “Does anyone here even know what Spam is?” asked the teacher. Our son’s hand shot up, of course, because he ate the stuff semi-regularly. And loved it. Things turned up a notch when he volunteered that we had a couple of cans at home in the pantry. So the teacher asked if he could bring a can to school for everyone to try.
He took it in whereupon the teacher cut it cold into cubes and served it with toothpicks and crackers. Hint – you eat the Spam and the cracker, leaving the toothpick. Although I know some folks who would swap the toothpick for the Spam.
This was, frankly, just a little embarassing. Not only did the Cavanaughs know what Spam was, they kept the stuff on hand. OK, gourmands we were (and are) not.
As I have gotten older I have become less and less embarassed about things that once made my face turn a little pink. Spam is one of them.
Did you know that it was originally an acronym for Shoulder Pork And Ham? Nothing bad for you there, right? It is all ground up together with health-giving additives in big factories that are surely cleaner (or at least more highly regulated) than any of our own kitchens and stuffed into a can. Which no longer gives you a key. Perhaps this is why I don’t eat it quite as much as I used to.
A little research tells me that when it was introduced in 1937, Spam was the only meat product that did not require refrigeration. This may or may not be true, but its makers sure sold a lot of the stuff to the U.S. Army during the second world war, which led to its being adopted as something approaching a staple in several other countries.
Until looking into it I had no idea that Spam (I mean SPAM) comes in fifteen varieties, including Turkey SPAM and SPAM flavored with teriyaki, chorizo and garlic. Who knew Spam was such a multicultural treat. Not Treet – that was the me-too product made by Armour, until they unloaded it in the ’80s. It is still being made if you have a thing for Brand X “luncheon loaf”, but I will stick with the real thing – SPAM Classic.
Despite its having won a war and fed a lot of hungry children, Spam continues to be the butt of jokes. I’m talking to you, Monty Python. Perhaps I need to move to a place where Spam is held in higher esteem, like Hawaii or the place in Minnesota where it has its own museum. At least some folks appreciate this unique way to get all the salt and fat that a healthy body craves.
Opening image source: Wikimedia Commons, 2014 photograph by Quertyxp2000.