Most of us snigger when we think of Spam, but is it really so bad? Maybe you have to be a certain age to salivate at the thought of a Spam fritter. After all, it has been around since 1937 which, as food products go, is a few lifetimes.
There’s a war on, don’t you know?
Spam was created in America. In 1941 it arrived in the UK where the Brit consumer fell on it like it was prime steak, which to a country severely food rationed it pretty much was. My parents were children then and they adored it, but by the time they had their own children the UK was on an upward spiral of better and more affordable food and Spam lost sales.
Do mention Monty Python
The ironic thing is that now, at around £1.80 a tin, Spam could be said to be expensive compared to mass produced ‘real meat’. Couple that with the fact that at least one generation has grown up with no idea what the stuff even is (if you asked they would invariably answer "junk emails"), let alone what it might taste like, and the sales forecast could make bad reading for the men who cook up Spam over at Hormel foods in Denmark. You didn’t know it was made in Denmark? Well, that’s why Vikings sing the song in Monty Python’s classic Spam sketch.
Spam for the memory
Allan Pickett, Head Chef at Plateau at Canary Wharf, laughed when I asked him about Spam: “My wife has memories of spam fritters, but I just remember as a child my granddad serving it with homemade chips and his pickled onions which I could never eat as they were too hot for me.” Sounds quite tasty actually? “It was, but just because of the home made cooking. He was a great cook, as was my gran.” People have always experimented with Spam. The famous Spam Fritter has an iconic status, mostly with people who actually haven’t eaten one for years. You can do almost anything with Spam, but should you?
Keep calm and carry on
Oisin Rogers, the manager of gastropub The Ship in Wandsworth, told me: “Dad once added cubes of Spam to his spag bol. I think that's the only time I've actually eaten it. It was much better than the time he put rhubarb in it though! My mum used to keep Spam tins in the garage just in case there was another war.” Paul Theroux, in his book The Happy Isles of Oceania, seems to claim that Spam was popular in countries that used to have cannibalism because it tasted like human flesh. Perhaps understandably, this isn't something the Spam marketing bods have decided to pick up on.
A gourmet treat
The Spam packaging is undeniably beautiful, with a classic design and bold colours. Pull off the lid and tip the tin and, with a bit of encouragement, your block of Spam slides out with a satisfying gloop and thunk sound.
Or perhaps Spam & Leek Bulgar wheat with honeyed goats' cheese will float your gourmet boat? Or you could do as I've done, and make the classic Spam fritter.
The Spam website doesn’t take itself too seriously and has a remarkable amount of recipes to choose from. Looking around it’s genuinely hard not to feel affection for this old warhorse of a product that’s still making family meals today.