Raise your hands—who has eaten SPAM? Uh-huh—are you sure?—how ‘bout that—more than I expected. It had been decades since I tried it the last time, so, after deciding to blog about it, I picked up a can (the Classic variety) at Kroger a couple of weeks ago. A few days later, we had it for supper (SPAM Classic One Skillet Mac and Cheese—you can find it online). The meat’s consistency is a tad—odd, but overall, it was pretty tasty.
SPAM (“spiced ham”) was introduced by Hormel Foods in 1937 with hopes of promoting a less popular cut of meat—pork shoulder. The Classic version ingredients have remained the same for over eighty years: pork with ham, salt, water, modified potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrite. (Natural gelatin forms during the production line cooking process.) Preparing those cans of SPAM for the retail market is a relatively simple process. The meat is ground, then the rest of the ingredients are added, and everything is mixed together. The twelve-ounce cans are filled, the lids are attached, the cans are cooked and cooled, labels are applied, and the cans are cased in boxes. Voilà!
Originally, there was just plain SPAM. Today, there are thirteen Hormel varieties of SPAM available in various parts of the world—classic, less sodium, lite, hot & spicy, black pepper, jalapeño, spread, singles, singles lite, hickory smoke, bacon, cheese, and roasted turkey. (For my health-conscious readers, you might consider trying the roasted turkey variety—lower fat content and fewer calories. Also, earlier this year, OmniPork, a plant-based version of SPAM and pork substitute, was launched by OmniFoods. It is made from shiitake mushrooms, peas, non-GMO soy, and rice. Yum . . .)
SPAM became a staple for the U.S military during World War II because it was so difficult to get fresh meat to the front lines. Over one hundred and fifty million pounds of SPAM were purchased by the military during the war. Some of the men and women in our Armed Forces affectionally referred to their favorite canned meat as “ham that didn’t pass its physical”—“meatloaf without basic training”—and “SPecial Army Meat.”
I don’t remember eating SPAM as a kid. Maybe Dad said “no thanks” after getting his fill of it during WWII and Korea. Also, we lived in Iowa, where "real” meat (beef and pork) was plentiful and delicious and (I'm assuming) relatively inexpensive.
All cans of SPAM sold in North and South America and in Australia are produced in either Austin, Minnesota or Dubuque, Iowa. You might (or might not) be surprised to know there is a SPAM Museum in Austin, about one hundred miles south of Minneapolis/St. Paul. The museum is open seven days a week, but their “SPAMbassadors” offer live virtual tours if you’re not in the neighborhood. Their SPAM Shop offers a nice variety of clothing and other unique items for the SPAM fans on your Christmas lists.
In 1944, there were six grocery stores in Algona, Iowa. (For my new readers, my novel takes place in Algona.) I found ads for all six stores in the July and August 1944 weekly issues of the Kossuth County Advance newspaper. (Interestingly, I found almost no grocery ads in the other weekly newspaper, The Algona Upper Des Moines.) It was fun looking at those old ads as I tried to spot grocery items I can find on the shelf at Kroger today, seventy-seven years later. In the ads above, I found:
Campbell’s Tomato Soup…Kraft’s American Cheese…Post Grape Nuts Flakes…Ivory Soap…Northern Toilet Tissue…Star-Kist Tuna…Kellogg’s Rice Krispies and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes…Black Flag Insect Spray…Mazola Oil…Ovaltine…Gerber’s Baby Food…Folger’s Coffee…Van Camp’s Beans…Skippy Peanut Butter
And, of course . . . SPAM, just 29 cents a can. It's three dollars more at Kroger today.
Blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her first novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.