So much more than junk email
May 16, 2023
A Tuesday Newsday Classic, updated with a story about the poor man’s version of Spam.
If historians were to pick ONE significant event from each year in history what would the most important from 1891 be? The formation of the US Forest Service? No. The opening of Carnegie Hall? Definitely not. The patent of corkboard? Not even close.
No the most significant event of 1891 was when, on May 16th, George Hormel opened a small butcher shop in Austin, Minnesota and introduced the world to… SPAM!
What was significant about the product is that it took pork and ham and cooked it in its own container thus giving it a rather long shelf life. Oh that innovative George Hormel!
Since its creation Spam has become a ubiquitous part of pop culture and the worldwide psyche. It’s eaten throughout the world but especially in Great Britain and also in the Philippines. In the United States more Spam is eaten in Hawaii than in any other state. From the infallible Wikipedia:
“Spam is especially popular in the state of Hawaii, where residents have the highest per capita consumption in the United States. Its perception there is very different from on the mainland.
A popular native sushi dish in Hawaii is Spam musubi, where cooked Spam is placed atop rice and wrapped in a band of nori. Varieties of Spam are found in Hawaii that are unavailable in other markets, including Honey Spam, Spam with Bacon, and Hot and Spicy Spam.
Hawaiian Burger King Restaurants began serving Spam in 2007 to compete with the local McDonald’s chains. In Hawaii, Spam is so popular that it is sometimes referred to as ‘The Hawaiian Steak’.”
My exhaustive research uncovered the existence of a SPAM museum in Austin, Minnesota. Putting that on my bucket list!
Highlighted in a variety of movies and TV shows, SPAM was immortalized in pop culture by the comedic troupe Monty Python. And, of course, it’s the term which has become synonymous with junk mail. More from Wikipedia:
“Spam was featured in an iconic 1970 Monty Python sketch called ‘Spam’. Set in a café which only served dishes containing Spam, including ‘Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, baked beans, Spam, Spam, Spam and Spam’, the piece also featured a companion song. By the 1990’s, Spam’s perceived ubiquity led to its name being adopted for unsolicited electronic messages, especially spam email.”
Now, I do have a confession to make. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never eaten Spam. Growing up I was, well, a picky eater. Frankly, I’m surprised I’ve never before shared this story.
When our family moved to Yakima in 1961, my Dad worked for National Cash Register (NCR). NCR had a nasty habit of moving their salesmen frequently and my parents had moved some nine times in less than 15 years.
My mother was happy about the move to Yakima as her sister lived there and their parents resided in Selah. So in the fall of 1961, our family relocated from Clarkston, Washington to Yakima.
We were there for six months when NCR, of course, told my Dad they were transferring him to the Tri-Cities. My long suffering mother put her foot down and said “No more moves.” It was at that point my Dad returned to college to get an Education degree with plans to become a teacher.
This is germane to the story in that for the next two years our family of six had to live off of the savings my parents had. Even after he got a job, I doubt that being a teacher paid as well as being a salesman, but he was happier. In all of the 1960’s we NEVER went out to dinner save for one day each November to celebrate my grandfather’s birthday. I’m pretty sure my Grandpa Freimuth paid for that meal.
Which meant that my mother had to get inventive when it came to food. Most the dinners I recall were of chicken, ham, or beef with mashed potatoes and a vegetable. I did not know until I moved away from home that there were any other spices for cooking chicken or beef than salt and pepper. True story.
But this also meant that all of us who were in school from 1963 to 1967 – that was five people – took lunch in a brown paper sack every day. Once again, Mom had to get creative as she fixed those lunches each evening before she went to bed.
Lunch often consisted of a non-descript yellow cheese on two slices of white bread buttered with margarine. Or some tuna fish which was mixed with miniscule amounts of mayonnaise on two slices of white bread spread with a swipe of mayonnaise, or a bit of peanut butter spread thin on two slices of white bread… well, you get the picture.
But the most dreaded of all things which my mother would put on a sandwich was this: leftover roast beef or ham, a hunk of the non-descript yellow cheese, and cucumber dill pickles slices… all mixed together by this grinder contraption which was connected by a vice type grip to the cutting board (it was a slide out). My mother would stuff all three things into the top of the grinder, turn the handle, and then out would spew this concoction of brown, orange, and green. This was then spread on two slices of white bread sort of buttered with margarine or mayonnaise*.
My mother used to wonder why I was such a skinny child. Well, it was because of food like this. I would try to eat the thing but usually ended up throwing it away after two bites or less. But I always drank all of the carton of milk (which cost a nickel) and ate the handful of potato chips which were sent.
I suppose had Mom made Spam Sandwiches I might actually have eaten the thing…naw. Who am I kidding?
The good news is that I became an adventurous eater as an adult. I learned about all the herbs and spices and the best one of all: garlic. I wonder if they make garlic Spam? Now that I might eat.
Be sure to check out these two links to learn more about Spam!
*Mayonnaise – my father hated mayonnaise and my mother was not allowed to put mayo on his sandwiches. I think she snuck it in to tuna salad and, possibly, the evil mixture as a way of holding it all together. But she never told him!