Saturday, February 1, 2014

Spam -- The Good Kind

(To start things off, here's a song to get stuck in your head for the rest of the day...
And if you're like me, you're mouth is starting to water for a fried Spam and cheese sandwich, too.)

Hi, my name is Lisa and I like Spam.  Spam, the meat product.  I realize how politically incorrect it is to admit this, and I understand the potential danger to my health in the sodium content, alone.  But, I don't care.  I love the stuff!

Let us consider Spam...

Definition of spam 

  • spam  
  •  (spăm) 
  1. n. electronic junk mail: an unsolicited, often commercial, message transmitted through the Internet as a mass mailing to a large number of recipients
  2. v, send unwanted e-mail: to send an unsolicited e-mail message, often an advertisement, to many people
  3. v, post unwanted electronic messages: to post a message many times to a newsgroup, or an inappropriate message to multiple newsgroups
  4. n. something disliked, typically, but not necessarily, food. (From the brand name of a canned meat product.) : I can't eat this “spam.”
  5. n. a trademark used for a canned meat product consisting primarily of chopped pork pressed into a loaf. 

I find it highly insulting to my favorite lunch meat that all of the negative, newly-coined
definitions for Spam come first in the dictionary! Seriously, considering that the Hormel meat packing company made up the word in 1937, I think it should have dibs on the number one definition!

For a meat product, Spam  has quite the colorful history!   Developed by Jay Hormel, president of the Hormel Meat Packing Co., the canned pork shoulder was conceived during the mid 1930s as a low cost luncheon meat, a product appreciated by many struggling families during the
For one year, in 1936, before
 Hormel trade-marked the brand name
 "Spam," its new canned meat product
went by the bland moniker:
 "Spiced Ham." Spam is so much better!
Depression.  Composed of pork shoulder, chopped, pressed and packaged in tins, it was not considered "mystery meat" when it was packaged by Hormel, though Hormel's competitors, then and now, can't necessarily say the same. (In other words, Hormel is your safest bet, friends!)

Spam was not only a superstar of the Depression, it saved countless lives during and after World War II.  Or, to be more precise. the humble luncheon meat fed millions who might otherwise not have eaten during the war years.  An inexpensive food on the battle field and on the home front, Spam became a dependable and much-appreciated source of protein for the long-suffering British and Russian troops and folks near the front lines of the war.  

Better than Santa opening his sack...
A soldier sharing his Spam was a popular fellow.
The problem with the stuff, however, was simply the fact that there was so much of it. Because it was economical and shipped so well, that little blue can became the go-to food source -- ad nauseum.  People got sick of it!  And it was some kind of fun to make fun of!  But Spam undoubtedly saved many people from starvation after the war had depleted many countries' natural resources.  Years after the fighting had ended, American shipments of ever-lasting canned Spam continued to feed recuperating nations.  The occasional wartime stash is found, with unopened cans of Spam...  questionably still edible.

Which brings up the question.... How long does Spam last? The official Hormel estimation of the shelf life of a can of Spam is "indefinite," but most food safety experts suggest 2-5 years is the actual limit.  Regardless, after a couple of years, everyone agrees that the flavor will suffer.  And, I for one, can say without hesitation that if I found an unopened can of Spam from World War II, I would definitely not eat any of it.

Dwight Eisenhower admitted to the Spam folks after the war: ''I'll even confess to a few unkind remarks about it - uttered during the strain of battle, you understand. But as former Commander in Chief, I believe I can still forgive you your only sin: sending us so much of it.'' 

Following is one of many poems, jingles, and jokes penned about Spam in the war years -- one that diplomatic Dwight would have approved as accurate.  Most were not as complimentary as this little ditty, though! 

Now Jackson had his acorns
And Grant his precious rye;
Teddy had his poisoned beef—
Worse you couldn’t buy.
The doughboy had his hardtack
Without the Navy’s jam,
But armies on their stomachs move—
And this one moves on Spam.

For good or ill, there's no denying that Spam had an enormous presence in the war years; talk about brand recognition! Who doesn't recognize that square blue can, right?  Now, more than five decades later, Spam not only has a place in the collective memory, but it still has a place on our pantry shelves.  To date, Hormel has sold more than 7 billion cans of its iconic luncheon meat.  With Americans consuming more than 113 million cans a year, Spam has somehow managed (in spite of its somewhat "low class reputation") to retain its original "cravable" likability.  

Hormel also kept up with times.  I'm almost embarrassed to admit how much fun I had exploring the Spam website!  It's a particularly good and creative one, full of fun interactives -- and lots of goodies besides lunch meat. I think I just may have to get myself a nifty Spam slicer, for instance -- or maybe a Spam football.  (Now that would make a statement playing ball in the park, wouldn't it?)  Spam is Kitschy, fun, and darned if it doesn't taste good, too!  Check out some of the recipes at the bottom of this post and see if you don't agree -- it could be great fun to try some of these out-- and easy on the wallet, too!

Amazing Spam Trivia

The Basics

*  Nutrition information: A 100-gram (3.5-ounce) serving of original Spam provides 310 calories, 13 grams of protein, 3 grams of carbohydrates, 27 grams of total fat, inclu
ding 10 grams of saturated fat, The cholesterol content of Spam is 70 milligrams. A serving also contains 57% of the recommended daily intake of sodium. Spam provides the following: 0% vitamin A, 1% vitamin C, 1% calcium, 5% iron, 3% magnesium, 9% potassium, 12% zinc, and 5% copper

*  To learn all about the actual production of Spam, go here

*  For several years in a row, Hormel has been named by Newsweek as a top "Green" American company; in other words, it has been deemed to be environmentally responsible.

* Hormel has received numerous accolades recommending it as a fair and good employer; the military, in particular, has singled out Hormel as a great place for military veterans to work. 

Spam Stats

*  On March 22nd, 1994, Hormel celebrated its 5 billionth can of Spam!

*  If laid end to end, 5 billion cans of Spam would circle the earth 12.5 times

*  5 billion cans of Spam would feed a family of four three meals a day for 4,566.210 years

On average, each person on Guam currently consumes 16 tins of Spam each year and consumption is similar in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Hawaii, and Saipan. These areas have the only McDonald's restaurants that feature Spam on the menu
Hormel, appealing to modern sensibilities.  They
have both "Lite" and "Bacon" Spam now!

*  In the U.S., alone, 3.8 cans of Spam are currently consumed every second (assuming that Spam is eaten 24/7/365)
*  Which means that Americans consume a total of 113 million cans of Spam a year

*  Remember the slimy gel-like substance that used to glog out with the Spam when you dumped it out of the can?  That was really no more than the natural gelatin and broth resulting from the processing of the pork.  The addition of potato starch in the Spam recipe in 2001 has removed the evil gel.

* In recent years, in spite of possible negative connotations that have attached to the word "spam,"  consumption of Spam lunch meat has increased approximately 11% from 2009 to the present -- an increase attributed to consumer's reaction to the recession 

Spam During the War Years

 *  "If  Lend-Lease had been denied to Russia, perhaps by an isolationist America, the Red Army would never have become the military steamroller that it eventually became. Lend-Lease trucks and jeeps put the Russian Army on wheels for the first time ever while US food (including, famously, spam)kept the Russian population going. Nikita Khruschev, who later became Soviet Premier, was aware of this and noted in his memoirs: "How could we have advanced from Stalingrad and Kursk on to Berlin without American aid and foodstuffs? We had lost our grain-producing areas". Stalin was of the same opinion but naturally did not admit it publicly."
(quote from Tony Martin, London SE15 United Kingdom)

 *  "My British born-American raised Mother has told me that my British born-British raised Aunt Bethel always claimed that "Spam saved England" ---because it was ration free.   ...The question should be "What would have happened in WWII if there had been no Spam?"
James H Hauser, Bloomington IN USA

Publicity shot of the Hormel girls
*  In the United States in the aftermath of World War II, a troup of former servicewomen was assembled by Hormel Foods to promote Spam from coast to coast. The group was known as the Hormel Girls and associated the food with being patriotic. In 1948, two years after its formation, the troupe had grown to 60 women with 16 forming an orchestra. The show went on to become a radio program where the main selling point was Spam. The Hormel Girls were disbanded in 1953. (Darnit, anyway!)

 Austin, Minnesota has a restaurant with a menu devoted exclusively to Spam, called "Johnny's SPAMarama Menu"

The image of Spam as a low cost meat product gave rise to the Scottish colloquial term "Spam valley" to describe certain affluent housing areas where residents appear to be wealthy but in reality may be living at poverty levels

Fun With Spam

*   In 2005, Monty Python's Broadway Musical Spamalot  won a Tony award. The musical is based on the Monty Python hit, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," its title nodding to the iconic silliness of the Spam skit (shared below)

*  Now (naturally) there is a video game take-off on Spamalot, which you can find  here.  (You really have to try this one out.  It's free and very, very silly.)

*  Spam Celebrations: Hawaii holds an annual Spam Jam in Waikiki during the last week of April.  The small town of Shady Cove, Oregon is home to the annual Spam Parade and Festival, and Spamarama is a yearly festival held around April Fool's Day in Austin, Texas.  

 *  Austin, MN opened a semi-tongue-in-cheek museum dedicated to Spam lunch meat in 2001, the same year Hormel launched the Spammobile, a traveling Spam promotion -- which could be coming to a town near you! (Though I can't, for the life of me find a schedule for it  Sorry!) 

*  We live too far away to attend the Spam celebrations in Hawaii, Oregon, or Texas, but the girls and I, inspired by this Spam-athon of research on our favorite canned lunch meat are planning a Spamarama of our own.  July 5th, 1937 is Spam's official birthdate, so we think we'll aim for that day, when we may possibly have some big kids home to join us.  The current thought is that it will have to include a "Green Midgets Cafe" theme, obnoxious English accents, skits and music featuring the word "Spam," possibly a couple of vikings, and lots and lots of Spam dishes...  Stay tuned.  (I expect I'll repost this if and when we get that ball rolling...)

* The crafting world has long known about the creative use of Spam's distinctive square can.  Sturdy, but light, it's just the right size for all kinds of fun!  Check out this blog for lots of Spam can makeovers!  And this blog features a well-done tutorial on the cutest little magnetic Spam pencil holder you ever saw!

And More Fun

Back to the definition again.  I really do hate the cyber-world kidnapping of the word "spam!"  Especially since internet spam is such a bad and annoying thing, the scourge of the computer age!  But, honestly...  When I hear the word and have the need to click the word in my inbox, unwanted e-mails are not all I think about.  I think about Monty Python.  Which makes the whole irritation less irritating.

Do you know what I'm talking about?  Certainly I can't be the only person in the cyber world who dumps unwanted, questionable, possibly infested mail into the spam file while muttering: spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, and spam...?

And Then...

Some Scrumptious Spam Recipes

(Makes 12-14, 1-inch servings)
1 12-ounce can of Spam
1 loaf fresh or frozen bread or pizza dough
4-6 slices of Swiss cheese
4-6 slices provolone cheese
1 green bell pepper, sliced in rings
1 tomato, sliced
Pinch of dried oregano
Pinch of dried basil

Preliminaries: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray oil on a cookie sheet.
Preparation: Allow frozen dough to rise according to directions. Allow fresh dough to rise, doubling in size. Roll out on lightly floured surface. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Slice Spam ‰-inch thick. Layer half of the sliced Spam across center third of dough lengthwise. Cover with half of the pepper and tomato slices, and all the Swiss cheese. Fold left side of dough over Spam and cheese so it just covers. Fold remaining side of dough over the top and moisten the edge so it seals closed. Moisten the ends and fold them under so the hot cheese does not leak out. Spread olive oil over top and sprinkle with oregano and basil. Transfer to cookie sheet or pizza pan. Bake for 40 minutes.

Source: Jane Christyson and Bob Mahoney of Strongsville, first-place winners of the 1994 Spam recipe contest at the Cuyahoga County Fair.

"Burns and Allen," a famous comedy duo of the
radio age, are still hilarious.  Gracie cracks us
up.  You can listen to some of their schtick

Spam Veggie Pita Pockets 
(Makes 8 servings)

1 7-ounce can Spam, cubed
1 cup chopped broccoli 
1 cup chopped cauliflower
1 tomato, chopped 
1 carrot, peeled and chopped 
Ð cup chopped cucumber 
Ð cup finely chopped onion 
½ cup Italian salad dressing 
4 pita pocket breads, cut in half
Preparation: In large bowl, combine Spam, broccoli, cauliflower, tomato, carrot, cucumber and onion. Toss with dressing. Cover and refrigerate several hours. Spoon mixture into pocket bread.
Nutritional information per serving: calories, 216; protein, 8 grams; carbohydrates, 22 grams; fat, 11 grams; cholesterol, 20 milligram; sodium, 539 milligrams.Source: "Great-Tasting Recipes with Spam Luncheon Meat," Publication's International, 1996
Heehee!  I'm not sure where this silly image comes from.  I thought at first it
might be one of the "Wacky Packages."  Kids of the 1970s and '80s might remember
those...  But, usually, "Wackies" didn't use the actual trademarked name of a
product; rather, they made a goofy (stupid) word play out of it. So, yeah.
Still, made me smile. Reminded me of the kids that collected these when I was
in grade school.  My mother hated them and didn't allow them in the house!

Cool Cucumber Avocado Spam Sandwiches

8-oz pkg cream cheese, softened
1 medium cucumber, sliced 1/4"
12-oz can SPAM, sliced 1/8"
1/4 cup sour cream
2 ripe avocados, cut into 1/4" wedges
1/4 cup chopped fresh dillweed
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp pepper
8 slices rye bread

In small bowl combine cream cheese, sour cream, dillweed and pepper; stir to blend. Spread 2 tablespoons cream cheese mixture on each slice of bread. Reserve remaining cream cheese mixture. Arrange cucumber slices on bread slices; or w
ith 3 slices of SPAM. Dip avocados in lemon juice; Arrange on sandwiches. Garnish with remaining cream cheese mixture.

All the above recipes sound delicious, and we're especially anxious to try the last one for the cucumber avocado sandwich, but it's still hard to beat a good old-fashioned breakfast of eggs and fried Spam!  One of our favorites -- and way cheaper than bacon!

* And now I just have to say: researching and writing about Spam has been more fun than a Mom should be allowed to have! I've been smiling so much while I've been writing this that my cheeks hurt.

I mean, really.  Look at this:  a spamolantern!
And if you've gotten this far...  and have enjoyed the factorama and, especially the walk down memory lane, you might enjoy a visit at Sepia Saturday, where you can find a slew of links to bloggers sharing their memories through vintage and antique photos, facts and ponderings.  One of my favorite link-ups on the web!

Each week has a suggested theme, but folks over at Sepia Saturday seem to turn a kindly eye toward somewhat off-topic entries.  This week's topic is "suitcases."  So, well.  Uh...  Perhaps this time, anyway, I can fudge my way into compliance by claiming that my can of Spam could have arrived in a trunk or package to a soldier as pictured above...  



La Nightingail said...

I loved your post about good old Spam. I never wondered, really, where the name came from, so it's interesting to know it was derived from Spiced Ham: Sp-am. Very clever of Mr. Hormel. My Mom used to make a casserole called "Prem Dish" made with scalloped potatoes, peas, & "Prem" - Spam's competitor. I liked the scalloped potatoes & Prem, but I never liked the peas with it. Another good & easy dish is to slice Spam in medium thick slices, sprinkle with brown sugar & a tiny pinch of pumpkin pie spice, top with a slice of pineapple, cover with foil & bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Or you can nuke it, but cover with plastic instead of foil!

Jackie van Bergen said...

It wasn't such a big thing here in Australia.
So glad you included the Monty Python skit - reminds me of my brother, and now my niece reciting it and trying to get right the exact number of 'spam's in each menu item :)

Lovely's Blot said...

I remember having SPAM as a kid. It was a midweek dinner or served up fried with chips for school dinners! Not sure if you can still get it that easily.

Little Nell said...

Aagh, I hated Spam but I do like the idea of it having been packed in that already full and very interesting suitcase in the prompt.

I'm not sure if you are aware that you have Word Verification switched on, most of us Sepians find comment moderation does the trick and makes it more friendly to fellow bloggers. If you block 'anonymous' comments' you should be fine.

Bob Scotney said...

Spam fritters were a treat for us on occasions.

Alan Burnett said...

I had never realised that spam could be so interesting. Some great old images, thanks for sharing them.

Lisa said...

Thanks, Little Nell! I'll go run over and see about removing that! I agree that it's a pain! But it's been so long since I set up the blog specs, I really hadn't thought of messing with it!

Wendy said...

Even if someone had held a gun to my head, I couldn't have come up with this much info on Spam.

Postcardy said...

I like spam but hardly ever eat it. The single serving packet is nice for bag lunches.

The Minnesota State Fair has a Spam building with souvenirs etc. and a food stand.

There are some clever Spam postcards printed as part of a free brochure. I have two versions. One is here:

I think I will look for the other version to post too.