July 5 marks the 80th anniversary of Spam, the canned lunchmeat known the world over and produced right here in Minnesota.
The creme de la creme of processed pork was known early on as “The Meat of Many Uses!” But it got off to a rocky start when servicemembers in World War II got sick of being served three meals a day of an inferior product dripping in “loose juice,” and started sending hate mail to parent company Hormel Foods Corp.
The company’s president, Jay Hormel, kept these angry letters in something he called the “Scurrilous File,” and the whole matter got him kind of depressed.
A 1945 article in the New Yorker has him ruminating over the blue-tinned lunchmeat’s bad reputation.
“Mr. Hormel toyed with his drink for a moment, then went on ... ‘We didn’t even get around to putting Spam on the market until 1937 ... Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t have’ ... Mr. Hormel didn’t finish the sentence. We got the distinct impression that being responsible for Spam might be too great a burden for any one man. ‘It’s all right,’ he said defensively in a moment. ‘Damn it, we eat it in our own home.’”
My, how things turned around.
In 2012, Spam sold its 8 billionth can. It’s available in 44 countries. Its packaging is on display at the Smithsonian. In Hawaii, it’s basically caviar.
In Austin, Minn., Spam’s world headquarters, a new museum opened last year with 14,000 square feet of interactive galleries devoted to the spongy pink loaf. (On Friday, the town will celebrate Spam’s birthday with a block party.)
But perhaps there was no greater glory for Spam than the 1960s, when cooks took this spiced processed pork to a whole other level.
Here are 10 vintage recipes featuring the Minnesota-made meat at its wackiest.
1. Spam Upside Down Pie
Mmm, I love my pie with pork loaf in it! The bonus is the sauce placed in the center of the ring. The ad suggests “tart cheese,” tomato or horseradish. “Festive!”
2. Spam Birds
Just wrap a slice of Spam around some stuffing, fasten with a toothpick, brown in the oven and somehow this is a bird. “No bone, no waste, no surplus fat.” Oh goodie!
3. Spam ‘N’ Macaroni Loaf
This “savory symphony” of Spam and “macaroni mixture” actually sounds not bad. But what is up with the porcelain elephants?!
4. Spam Fiesta Peach Cups
Spam, oats, milk, catsup, mustard and... peaches. It’s both “savory and succulent” and has this added benefit: “Bring California sunshine to winter’s meals!”
5. Spam ‘N’ Banana Fritters
You thought peaches were a bad idea? Try “luscious” fried bananas with sliced meat.
6. Spam ‘N’ Cheese Ribbon Loaf
This is some next-level food styling. “Tender, pure-pork SPAM joins with a zesty cream cheese mixture for memorable eating. Serve for supper or lunch -- or as a noteworthy appetizer.”
7. Spam ‘N’ Limas
Because Spam and a “Spanish sauce” of canned tomatoes, onions, peppers, celery leaves, sugar, salt and lard will help lima beans become edible.
8. Planked Spam
Sounds like a pirate’s death sentence. Looks like an abomination.
9. Spam Brittany
Spam, apples, orange marmalade and whole cloves all baked together. So easy!
10. Baked Bean Spamwich
“Husband home for lunch? Pamper him like this...” With this messy sandwich that will drop sticky baked beans all over his lap. Oh, and don’t forget to serve your sexist sandwich with this equally sexist side of a “man-style salad” of canned peaches and cottage cheese. “He’ll say it’s better than downtown.”
Bonus: Not a recipe, but still super weird.
Spam spokescouple Gracie Allen and George Burns did a lot for the canned meat, including this super creepy skit.
“Gracie...If a strange man offered to buy you a lunch, what would you say?” Burns asks.
No, the answer isn’t, “Get away from me, you weirdo.”
Allen replies, “Spam.”