The first holiday of the summer, Memorial Day, is almost upon us. In honor of all the service men and women who served during World War II, it is an ideal time to serve that all-American wartime staple, Spam. Further more, today marks the anniversary of the day Spam received its official trademark. It was 74 years ago that this most loved and most hated meat product of the nation made its debut.
Now that the famed luncheon meat is enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution in its National Museum of American History, Spam has joined Archie Bunker’s tattered lounger, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, crayons from Crayola and Reynolds Wrap aluminum as icons of our culture.
Spam earned its right to become an important part of Americana. Throughout the world it is viewed as nutritious, inexpensive, tasty and most importantly, a vital element in feeding the hungry masses during World War II. Spam continues to play an essential role in our culture with numerous websites, recipe contests and festivals and the object of war stories and jokes. There is even a catalog of Spam merchandise such as T-shirts, neckties and jewelry.
It’s only fitting that Spam shows up at parties since the name originated at a New Year’s Eve party in 1937 when Kenneth Daigneau, brother of a Hormel Foods vice president, suggested it. There was a contest on to find a memorable brand name for its canned meat product, which had the mundane designation of Hormel Spiced Ham.
Many food snobs look down their collective noses at Spam. Not so in Hawaii, where more of the canned meat is consumed than any other place in the world. You won’t find the islanders dipping into poi as much as slicing up their favorite food, Spam. They consume 4.3 million cans every year; more than four cans for every Hawaiian. Residents of Alaska, Arkansas, Texas and Alabama are the heaviest consumers of Spam after Hawaii.
In South Korea, if you want to make a sensational impression, just bring forth a can or two of Spam. Koreans consider a gift of Spam as prized as jewelry or a case of vintage Champagne. Spam’s fame circles the globe from England to Russia. The English could not have survived without Spam, claimed former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who recalled the war years and a Christmas holiday when a tin of Spam saved the day!
No less a luminary than Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the former Soviet Union after World War II, paid homage to Spam in his book, “Khrushchev Remembers.” “We had lost our most fertile, food-bearing lands. Without Spam our armies would have starved to death.”
And what other comestible can claim to have a movie and a Broadway production named after it. “Spamalot” has been a riotous contribution to the entertainment world; the first commodity to inspire fame, fun, frolic and fascination.
In 2010, 17 million cans of Spam were exported, and in Korea, Denmark, Japan and the Philippines, there are plants that manufacture it. A staggering 50 million cans of Spam are produced internationally.
Spam, which is made by Hormel Foods in Austin, Minn., achieved its milestone 1 billionth can sold in 1959, after 22 years on the market. The trademark Spam is registered in 101 counties, including Bahrain, Botswana, Malaysia and Uruguay. Hormel Foods has not taken well to the use of the word “Spam” to designate worthless information on the Internet. There have been several lawsuits and the company also insists that the product is SPAM (all capital letters).
Spam is no stranger to the party scene. During many celebrations, such as luaus, barbecued Spam replaced poi and at college toga parties guests consumed Spam while reenacting scenes from the film “Animal House.”
For your all-American Memorial Day get-togethers, try these recipes:
12-ounce can Spam 8 tablespoons shredded Monterey jack and cheddar cheese with jalapenos Lettuce leaves 10-12 thin slices avocado ½ cup garden vegetables salsa, drained 3 to 4 tablespoons sour cream 4 soft tortillas Preparation
■ Cut Spam into three ½-inch-thick slices.
■ Using a knife, carefully make a pocket in each slice
of Span to within half-aninch on all sides.
■ Fill each pocket with 2 tablespoons cheese.
■ Grill or heat burgers over medium heat until golden brown on both sides and cheese is melted, turning once.
■ Place lettuce on top half of each tortilla. Top with burger, avocado, salsa and sour cream. Fold edges of tortilla inward. Serves 4.
Spam and potato salad
2 pounds new potatoes 15-ounce can butter beans (or lima beans) 12-ounce can Spam, cubed 1½ cups frozen whole kernel corn, thawed and drained ½ cup sliced green onion ¾ cup reduced calorie olive oil vinaigrette salad dressing Preparation
■ In a large saucepan, cook potatoes in boiling water for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain. Cut into quarters.
■ In a larger bowl, combine beans, potatoes, Spam, corn and green onion. Toss with dressing. Cover and refrigerate for several hours. Serves 6.
1 7-ounce can Spam, finely cubed
1⁄3 cup shredded Cheddar cheese ¼ cup mayonnaise or salad dressing 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1⁄8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce Toast triangles, party rye slices or crackers Preparation
■ In a bowl, combine all ingredients except crackers or toast.
■ Spread mixture on toast or crackers. Place on baking sheet and broil 1 to 2 minutes or until cheese melts. Makes 2 cups.
Q: I’m having a birthday party for my 12-year-old grandson and he has requested porcupine meatballs. Now all I need is a recipe and hope you can provide one.
— Lil Moscowitz,
A: A meatball by any name is a super treat. These little gems have been called Swedish meatballs, Hawaiian meatballs or cocktail meatballs, but my name for them is:
Sweet and sour porcupine meatballs
1½ cups coarse fresh bread crumbs 1½ cups whole milk 2 pounds ground beef round or chuck 2 medium onions, finely chopped ½ cup finely chopped celery ½ cup long-grain rice ½ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper Sauce ingredients
2 cups tomato juice 1 8-ounce jar grape jelly 2 tablespoons cider vinegar Preparation
■ In a large mixing bowl, soak the breadcrumbs in the milk for 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and mix together with your hands. Shape the mixture into ¾-inch balls.
■ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the meatballs in a greased shallow baking dish. Combine the sauce ingredients and pour over the meatballs. Bake for 1 hour and serve hot with toothpicks and plenty of napkins. Makes about 60 meatballs.
Doris Reynolds is the author of “Let’s Talk Food” and “When Peacocks Were Roasted and Mullet was Fried.” They are available for sale in the lobby of the Naples Daily News. Also available is a 4-part DVD, “A Walk Down Memory Lane with Doris Reynolds.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.