Yes, spam. The stuff that Monty Python made such memorable fun of a skit oh so long ago. Now you won’t find any spam here at this Estate as we’ve got more natural meat here than you can shake your leg at, but I’ve actually had spam, mostly in Asia, in many a meal there. It’s not as bad as its many detractors would have you believe, so it’s fitting that this slender book details, as the subtitle says, The Amazing True Story of America’s “Miracle Meat”.
(A fair warning: this is not a serious study of the potted history of this product. It’s an entertaining look at spam, spam and more spam.)
First introduced to American public during the Depression, 1937 to be precise, as the perfect tinned meat. It was instant success. Spam was a product was born of a need to use virtually worthless pork shoulder as the meat industry of the Thirties because it took far too long to cut it off the bone. So Jay C. Hormel, president of, you guessed it, the Hormel company, decided that it should be used a spiced, canned product. Hormel had first made a fortune canning hams starting in 1926, something an industry based of selling fresh meat had never even thought of doing.
Ok, that’s the serious part of the book. (Though I did notice Wyman didn’t mention potted ham spread, another Hormel product.) Lets get on to that part now. And that part of the story starts with the Second World War. The author is a daughter of a soldier who developed a taste for it in that war. Spam was adopted by a culture where the refrigerator was a luxury that even middle class families didn’t have as reliable power was damn near non-existent. So a tinned meat that the largely Catholic population could keep for months if need be. Throughout Asia, it quickly got used with eggs, in rice dishes and even in, err, sushi.
Spam is short for spiced ham. Oddly enough I’d say that it, err, tastes like a mild ham with virtually no spicing. Ideal for cooking in every dish from barbecued spam (really) to a breakfast sandwich in Hawaii topped with a slice of spam. None of this would be possible if Jay Hormel hadn’t fought hard to keep such competing products as Armour’s Treet.
Spam quickly spawned a fanatical culture of enthusiasts who traded recipes, attended spam conventions, and collected spam memorabilia. Ok, this is silly enough that I feel it must mention Monty Python again.
If you like spam, you should read this book; if you’re interested in how a tinned meat became a global cultural success story, it’s well-worth reading.
My favourite spam dish? Eggs, spam, and pineapple chunks. Ymmm!
(Harvest Books, 1999)