Archive for January 11th, 2012

In this internet age , spam only means one thing : unsolicited mail. It wasn’t always so .Originally , Spam was the canned pre-cooked meat product made by  Hormel foods and the name was derived from  Shoulder Pork  HAM . First introduced in 1937, the labeled ingredients included chopped pork shoulder meat,  ham meat , salt, water, modified potato  starch , and sodium nitrite as a preservative. Sold in 12 oz. cans , Spam came in an aspic formed by the cooling of the meat stock. It was a staple of the army diet and was also known as SPecial  Army  Meat  and later , when soldiers  got sick and tired of it as ” Ham that didn’t pass its Physical” or   “Meatloaf without basic training”. In the post WW II years , Spam was popular because it was cheap and readily available but it gradually lost favor. It was very high in fat content and in cholesterol and it came to be thought of as poor man’s food  when fresh meat became affordable and available.When I was in college in the late sixties , it had become something of a joke . I remember eating it a few times during my impecunious college days but not any time since; the gelatinous glaze turned me off. I’ve never been tempted to try it since though ( I think) it’s still to be seen on the supermarket shelves. What is surprising is that it is still popular, very popular, in some parts of the U.S , notably Hawaii and the Marianas. Elsewhere , it is looked down upon but in the islands it is a regular on the menu. I once watched a cooking show on which a celebrity chef from Hawaii   unapologetically incorporated it in one of his dishes.  Another news show I watched focused on how the islanders in Guam ( or perhaps it was Saipan,my memory is a bit hazy) ate large amounts of Spam and as a result were unhealthily obese and had markedly shorter life spans. In Saipan , for instance, they consume an average of 16 twelve oz. cans a year .The continuing popularity of Spam in these places can be attributed to its  ready availability, its affordability and its ease of preparation . During the war , it was often the only meat that was available and Hawaiian housewives fell in love with it because it could easily be paired with local staples such as pineapple , onions, peppers and soy sauce. It is definitely NOT true that the inhabitants of Oceania were “former cannibals who now feasted on Spam because it came nearest to approximating the porky taste of human flesh. ….And in the absence of Spam they settled for corned beef, which also had a corpsy flavor.” (LOL) Actually , dried corned beef served on toast ( and known to soldiers as S.O.S or Shit on a Shingle) was also popular for the same reasons  as Spam .

Writing about Spam caused me to remember some other meat products which are rarely seen today : scrapple , head cheese and spiced ham.During my college days,these were to be seen in meat cases in supermarkets  but today they are not to be found at least in the supermarkets here in Central N.J.

Both scrapple and head cheese date back to earlier times when nothing was wasted and every part of the pig was eaten except the squeal. Scrapple , a  Pennsylvania Dutch specialty, is a mush of pork scraps left over from the butchering, thickened with  cornmeal and flavored with sage , thyme , black pepper and other spices. The mush is formed into a semi-solid congealed loaf, and slices of the scrapple are then pan-fried before serving. Head cheese , which originated in Europe, is not  a cheese but a terrine or meat jelly made with flesh from the head of a pig or calf and often set in aspic. . Head cheese may be flavored with onion , black pepper, allspice, bay leaf and salt. In England, it is known as brawn or , when pickled in vinegar, as souse.It is usually eaten cold or at room temperature as a luncheon meat.

I wasn’t a big fan of head cheese or scrapple but I used to buy spiced ham fairly often because it was cheaper. I’m not sure what spiced ham  was exactly but I think it was made from odd pieces of ham or ham trimmings ground up, mixed with spices and formed into a loaf with some sort of binder . I don’t recall seeing it in meat cases at supermarkets , not for the last thirty years at least. It seems to me that the diminishing varieties of cold cuts available at the supermarket hint at the increasing pickiness of American eaters. This is somewhat of a surprise, From the cooking shows on the Food Network it would seem that Americans are becoming more , not less, adventurous in their tastes.

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