Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Mighty Mystery Meat

by Connie Cortright

Last week the story of Velveeta was explored, so this week will be the discussion of SPAM. For most of us, when the word SPAM is heard an immediate picture - and maybe even taste - pops into our heads. SPAM was a staple in my house when I was growing up on the farm - not every week, but often enough to have memories of it.

SPAM didn't show up in grocery stores until after 1937. Jay Hormel, the son of the owner of the Minnesota meat-packing plant, is credited for coming up with the SPAM recipe. A decade earlier, Hormel had introduced the canned ham to the nation, but during the Depression, only the rich could afford canned hams.

Meat packing companies tried to introduce a cheaper brand of canned pork, but made the mistake of using unappetizing parts of the pig such as lips, snouts and ears in the contents of these canned pork products. Sounds appetizing, doesn't it? For some reason, this canned meat didn't go over too well. I wonder why...

Jay Hormel wanted to improve on this product by using the meat off the pork shoulder in his canned meat product. He found a way to extract the meat out of this hard to access cut of pork, chopping it into pieces, and placing it into a can. He found a way to process the meat in a vacuum sealed tin, which reduced the amount of juices formed during the cooking procedure. It was a much improved product over his competition.

Since SPAM was produced in this manner, it had a shelf life that was almost indefinite. When the army found out about this, they became Hormel's biggest customer. Fifteen million cans of SPAM were produced weekly and shipped overseas to the US soldiers during WWII. Many soldiers have memories of eating SPAM three times a day during the war years from 1941 to 1945 - and these are not fond memories. One writer quipped:
Now Jackson had his acorns
And Grant his precious rye;
Teddy had his poisoned beef-
Worse you couldn't buy.
The doughboy had his hardtack
Without the navy's jam, 
But armies on their stomachs move-
And this one moves on Spam. (Quoted from American WWII.com - Spam Again)

Hormel had a naming contest to name this new canned meat. Kenneth Daigneau, brother-in-law to the Hormel Vice President, won the $100 contest when he suggested the name SPAM. It was a combination of the words Spiced Ham, which was the original title of this meat.

Today the meat product SPAM is spelled with all capital letters to distinguish it from the junk email that we receive on our computers daily. The Hormel company adopted this practice years ago when it won a law suit regarding its name.

I wonder if I can persuade my husband that we need to have SPAM for dinner this week after all this talk about it. Hmmm, probably not. ;)

Information taken from How SPAM is Made and How the Word Spam Came to Mean Junk Message


  1. Soldiers' memories of Spam might not have been bad if they hadn't had to have it three times a day, every day.
    I have heard of some who enjoyed it then and still today.

  2. I'm sure you know more than I do about this. I'm glad some enjoyed it, but I'm sure many were sick of eating it all the time. I didn't put in the part about the jokes surrounding SPAM. I haven't had it for a long time, but my hubby even said we should have some next week!