People have a love-hate relationship with Spam, so much so that unfounded rumors abound about the name. Contrary to what Facebook scaremongers would have you believe, it is very simply a portmanteau for spiced ham.
Spam is a hometown hero. It's a Minnesota celebrity product of Austin, Minnesota, where it first rolled off the production lines during the Great Depression (1937).
Certainly the reason it's made from pork shoulder is related to the waste-not, want-not mindset of those days. Simply put, ham was popular and expensive. Pork shoulder, not so much. According to a story by Time Magazine in 2017, the inventor was Jay Hormel, son of George Hormel after whom the company was named.
It wasn't the only pork product in town either, and still today you can find Treet on some shelves. Spam, however, is the only one I heard of before I started working in retail, and that's because it made its mark. It almost didn't, because homemakers were uncomfortable with canned meat that sits on a shelf with no refrigeration.
It was the U.S. military that kept Spam from the wastebaskets of history. Time says our military shipped more than 100 million cans of Spam overseas during World War II. Some (including Nikita Khrushchev) have said without it, Russia and England would have been wiped out and the war lost.
Smithsonian Magazine in July 2017 wrote that Spam grease was used to lubricate guns and waterproof boots. Like chipped beef, Spam and soldiers had a love-hate relationship. Eater.com says Hormel kept a file of hate mail from soldiers. They called it “Ham that didn't pass its physical” and worse.
But still, Spam saved lives in POW camps and embattled Russian cities where Germans cut off food supplies.
Spam has hardly changed since then. It's a cheap product, so there really wasn't much incentive to change it - just pork byproduct, salt, sugar, nitrite. Potato starch was added in 2009 to eliminate the gelatinous substance that coated it and filled cracks and crevasses, but it's so simple you can actually make it at home.
Go online for a bonus recipe if you are interested in learning to make it yourself.
Courtesy of a February 1959 Reader's Digest Spam advertisement
¼ cup bacon fat
1 1/3 cups instant rice
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup green pepper
1 ½ cups hot water
2 cups tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 can Spam, sliced into strips
In a hot skillet add bacon fat, rice, onion and green pepper. Saute until lightly browned, then add the water, tomato sauce, salt, pepper and mustard. Bring to a boil, then cook, stirring until thick. Stir in sliced Spam and cook three more minutes.
2 cups uncooked short grain white rice (use half this if planning to use eggs)
2 cups water
6 tablespoons rice vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup oyster sauce
½ cup white sugar
1 can of Spam, sliced horizontally into six slices (rinse and reserve can)
5 sheets of sushi nori
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 large eggs, beaten (optional, this is more Hawaiian)
Soak uncooked rice for four hours, drain and rinse. In a saucepan bring two cups of water to a boil and then add the rice and stir. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in rice vinegar and set aside to cool.
In a separate bowl, stir together soy, oyster sauce and sugar until completely dissolved. Marinate Spam in the sauce for five minutes.
If you choose to use eggs, cook them like a very thick omelet. If you can make it rectangular, that will make it easier later. Once cooked throughout, cut this into six equal size rectangles.
In a large skillet heat the oil over medium heat. Cook Spam slices for two minutes per side or until lightly browned. Cut nori sheets in half and lay them on a flat work surface. Separate the rice into 10 portions. Line the spam can with cling-wrap and then press half of one portion of rice into the bottom of the can with the back of a spoon. Place one slice of spam on top of this rice and press the remaining portion on top of the spam (If you have eggs, use the egg instead of rice). Use the cling-wrap to remove this onto one strip of nori. Roll the nori sheet over the spam and rice mixture and once in place, allow to rest.
Bonus Homemade Canned, Spiced Pork Product
5 pounds pork shoulder, ground fine
1 pound ham, ground fine
3 tablespoons tender quick
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons starch (corn works, but potato is more traditional)
1 cup ice cold water
Make a slurry by mixing all but the meat and allow to cool in a refrigerator at least 45 minutes before mixing well with the pork shoulder and ham.
Pack this into a bread pan, then wrap it with tinfoil. Place the bread pan in a wide cake pan filled with water and place into a 350-degree oven for 3.5 hours. Rewrap this product with a double layer of foil and then place something heavy on top of it and refrigerate it overnight. It can now be sliced and eaten like the store brand, but it's too dense to safely can, even with a pressure cooker, so eat right away or freeze it.