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Published July 06, 2012, 11:22 PM

Spam, the canned meat with Minnesota origins, marks 75 years

OK, so we missed the 75th anniversary of Spam by a day. But the canned ham “product” that helped win World War II and seemed an appropriate name for waves of unwanted emails always has seemed more leftovers than main course.

By: Chuck Haga, Forum Communications, INFORUM

OK, so we missed the 75th anniversary of Spam by a day. But the canned ham “product” that helped win World War II and seemed an appropriate name for waves of unwanted emails always has seemed more leftovers than main course.

So here’s to Spam, introduced on July 6, 1937, by Geo. A. Hormel & Co. in Austin, Minn. Within 70 years, the company had produced 7 billion cans.

Yes, billion with a “b.”

Mention that to a World War II veteran and he may claim he personally consumed a few thousand. With the coming of World War II, Hormel doubled production of Spam and sent 15 million cans a week to Allied soldiers, many of whom ranked it below C rations and vowed that – if they survived the war and made it home – no can of Spam would ever rest on their kitchen shelves.

The name is a smooshing of SPiced hAM, but “classic” Spam includes chopped shoulder meat, water, salt, potato starch as binder and sodium nitrate as preservative. The company has added more than a dozen varieties over the years, including lower-sodium Spam, Spam Hot & Spicy, Garlic Spam, and Cheese and Smoke-Flavored Spam.

New this year, to celebrate the anniversary: Spam Jalapeno and Spam Black Pepper.

In 2001, Charlotte Keller was handling inquiries about Spam’s origins, history and recipes for the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, and she told a reporter that she had raised five boys largely on Spam.

“I never served it just out of a can, sliced cold,” she said then. “We like it when it’s ground up and mixed with cheese, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes and pickles, and served on a cracker. That’s excellent.”

Today’s cooks get even more creative, according to recipes posted on the company website, www.spam.com/recipes, including Spam wontons, Spam and gravy on biscuits, Spam carbonara, Spam fusion fajitas and – make room at the sushi bar – Spam musubi.

Some of those treats may be on the menu when Hormel welcomes the public to a “Spamtastic Celebration” of its 75th birthday on July 28.

If nothing else, Spam has demonstrated a solid shelf life, withstanding seven decades of maligning commentary and jokes. The Monty Python crew made fun of Spam in movies and on Broadway. The word “spam” entered the popular lexicon in the 1990s as a term for unsolicited emails.

But Hormel got better press in 1998 when Spam entered the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., for its historic (if not gourmet) contributions in World War II.

Krushchev would have approved.


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Chuck Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald

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