SPAM. It’s whispered about behind closed doors in the same way that people talk about fruitcake, recreational drug use, and The Sound of Music. Publicly, nobody will admit to partaking, but most of them have to be lying or it wouldn’t still be around after all these years. First sold in 1937, SPAM is 75 years old this year.
You might be asking yourself “How did it get here?”, “Who would do such a thing?” “What the heck IS it, anyway?” You would not be alone. (In fact, it is those same questions, and SPAM’s stance as a ubiquitous part of the landscape, that got those annoying emails that won’t go away named after it.)
SPAM was introduced in 1937 by Hormel Foods, and the name is a shortened form of Spiced Ham. Although the exact nature of the mystery meat isn’t really a mystery, it is still often on the receiving end of speculation and jokes. I always thought the ingredients were lard, salt, and pink. In reality, it is made up of pork shoulder, ham, salt, water, modified potato starch , and sodium nitrite (preservative). So really, no scarier than any other overly processed food product, and definitely less scary than some others (I still need to investigate potted meat, but I am thinking that may be way more scary). Nutritionally it isn’t very much different from deli lunch meats.
There are basically two types of people. People that hate SPAM, and People that love SPAM. Of the people who love SPAM, there are two distinct subsets—those that love it LOUD and PROUD, and those that secretly love it while publicly expressing disdain.
The ones that are LOUD and PROUD are really, well, LOUD and PROUD about it. Austin, Texas is home to an annual festival called SPAMARAMA, since 1976. Thereat, SPAM is made into chili, grilled, fried, stewed, made into desserts, and celebrated in SPAM sculptures. In Hawaii, it is known as Hawaiian Steak, and made into SPAM Misubi (like sushi, it is packed with sticky rice and wrapped with nori). In Guam, the per capita consumption of SPAM is 16 tins per year, per person!
I grew up eating SPAM, and I did like it. A lot. Okay, I LOVED it. Are you happy now? Getting me to admit to something like that publicly? But it’s true.
My name is Christine, and I like SPAM. It is the one vestige left of my white trash roots. Several generations removed, and it still clings to life in the collective spirit of my ancestral heritage like a Southern girl clings to her Old English Roses china.
I like it sliced and fried until golden brown, and served with pancakes and syrup, or waffles and syrup, or anything and syrup. Or just with syrup. I also like it sliced and fried and served with melted cheese on toast. Two slices of spam fit perfectly in between two slices of sandwich bread. Plop a fried egg in there, and voila! Breakfast.
My kids, though–they won’t eat SPAM. Never tasted it, and barely heard of it. They are under the illusion that the hot meals that arrive under their noses each night appear out of thin air, by magic. Thusly, there should be no need for time-saving conveniences such as processed food. I brought this on myself, of course.
I really hadn’t eaten SPAM in probably 25 years, until I started planning this article. I fried some up the other day and ate it again like I did when I was a kid. It was tasty, but I felt like it could be so much more than a conduit for syrup to get into my mouth. I did some research, and found that SPAM is now made into tacos, spaghetti, gumbo, and cupcakes. WHO KNEW?! Clearly out of the SPAM loop, I sat down and did some playin’.
Here are some of the tasty, albeit White Trashy, dishes I enjoyed this week. May you also enjoy the austerity and nostalgia that is SPAM.
Easy Red Beans and Rice With Spam
- 1 tin SPAM, Original
- 2 T butter, divided
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 32 oz cans Red Beans
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 T vinegar
- 1 can beer
- 1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 4 cups cooked long grain white rice
- 6 green onions, chopped
- Louisiana Hot Sauce (for serving)
Slice the SPAM into ½ inch cubes. Place in a medium skillet with 1 tablespoon of butter, over medium low heat. Stir occasionally while you prepare the beans. SPAM should wind up nicely browned and crispy on the outside. When it has reached that, remove from heat. Try not to taste it–if you do, it’s like crack, and you may eat it all before the rest of the meal is ready. ( That would be bad.)
To make the beans, place remainder of butter in large saucepan or small stock pot over medium high heat. Add garlic, onion, peppers, and celery, and cook until softened. Add beans, bay leaves, vinegar, beer, tomatoes and cayenne. Simmer slowly for about 15 minutes. Serve over rice in bowls, and top with fried SPAM and, chopped green onions, and Louisiana Hot Sauce.
Greek Spanikopita is one of my favorite appetizers…Flaky phyllo dough wrapped around feta cheese and spinach and baked until crisp. SPAMikopita utilizes SPAM and cheddar cheese, wrapped in phyllo or crescent dough for a fun snack.
- I package phyllo sheets, thawed
- 1 stick melted butter
- 12 oz shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 tin SPAM, sliced into ¼ thick rectangles, and then diagonally into triangles
- 1 10 oz jar raspberry jelly
- 1/3 cup apple juice
Take one sheet of phyllo dough, and brush lightly with melted butter. Fold in half lengthwise. Place one triangle of SPAM at one end, with one of the short sides along the bottom edge of the phyllo, and top with a tablespoon of cheddar. Fold the corner of the phyllo that has the SPAM sitting on it up. And then continue to fold the SPAM up and over again and again, until you reach the opposite end of the phyllo. Place seam-side down on a baking sheet, and repeat with remaining phyllo, SPAM and cheese. Bake at 350* until starting to turn golden on top. Allow to cool for ten minutes.
Mix jelly and apple juice together in a small saucepan, and melt over medium heat until warm.
Serve SPAMikopita with the sauce for dipping.
**since I didn’t want to wait for the phyllo to thaw, I used crescent dough in the ones pictured. Tasty, but not as crisp and lovely as the phyllo.