✯ Day 260 of Vintage 365 ✯
My husband had the immensely good fortune of growing up in a country that boasts one of the most beloved, diverse and delicious cuisines in the world: Italy. As such his childhood was peppered daily with the kind of meals and foods that most of us go weak in the knees for, from rich pasta dishes to creamy risottos, gallons of Nutella to mountains worth of outstandingly wonderful gelato.
While certain North American foods made their way to his family's table over the years, it's always fascinating for me to find out which commonplace foods from this side of the Atlantic he has yet to try. One such, entirely vintage approved, food that he hadn't stuck is fork into before a few days ago was Spam.
Yes, Spam. That most joked about of canned luncheon meats, which to most now seems like a throwback to a very different time and place in history, was something Tony had never sampled before.
I can't say as though I've consumed copious amounts of Spam in my life, but I have certainly eaten in several times before and knew that, if only once, Tony needed to give this blast from the culinary past a sampling.
But what exactly is Spam? Long before the word "spam" referred to the zillions of junk emails we all receive every day, Spam (or SPAM®, as you prefer) was the name of a canned, precooked meat produced by the US brand Hormel.
Despite the running jokes about Spam being some kind of indistinguishable mystery meat, the ingredients in the classic recipe are anything but out of the ordinary or hard to place, and include chopped pork shoulder meat, ham meat, salt, water, potato starch, and sodium nitrate.
Spam has been on the shelves - and feeding military troops - for decades now, though it's zenith really came during the 1940s and 50s, when everything from radio ads to countless recipes in magazines and cookbooks used Spam like it was going out of fashion (which, incidentally, it kind of did in the ensuing decades, though many diehard Spam fans remain to this day, especially in Hawaii, where it's one of the most popular canned foods in the state).
The very first can of spam rolled off the production line in Austin, Minnesota in the late 1930s, and proved to be an overnight hit thanks to its low price point (especially important for those who were still reeling from the Great Depression), convenience, ease of use, and pleasant, versatile taste. By a mere four years later, in 1941, over 40 million pounds of Spam had already been sold!
Throughout WW2 Spam was used heavily by US troops stationed overseas, with more than 15 million cans of this dependable lunch meat being sent abroad every week during the war years. Following WW2 world leaders from Margaret Thatcher to Dwight Eisenhower all credited Spam for helping to play an import role in the Allied victory (proof-positive that "spam" really hasn't always been a negative word!).
Throughout the next two decades Spam found its way onto family tables across North American and beyond. Sometimes it was whipped up into rather eyebrow-raising dishes, but often it was also enjoyed quite plainly, cooked and served much like ham steaks or any other soft luncheon meat. As the vintage Spam ad above shows, you could easily find a place on your table for Spam at any meal of the day.
For Tony's first taste of this canned food classic, we agreed that it was best he try it in it's natural form, so I pan-fried several slices for him in a little unsalted butter, creating a thin, crispy golden brown crust, with a soft, meaty interior. Served with some shoestring French fries and ketchup, Tony dug right in and enjoyed his meal very much (though he did note, and I wholeheartedly agree, that Spam is quite salty).
Though neither of us eat very many processed foods or too much red meat, Tony said he’d certainly be game for trying Spam again sometime, perhaps baked or broiled (try as I may though, I know I won't be able to convince my Italian gourmand to eat his Spam with pineapple, which is how I really prefer it).
It's delightful to have been the first person to serve Tony Spam, and to bring this classic North American taste to my sweet Italian hubby's plate. It’s safe to say, this vintage luncheon meat is definitely the only kind of Spam we like around our house!