Food & Drink 

Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam!

We haven’t got much without Spam

Besides the mossies and blackflies, camping not so long ago meant one thing for certain: a nice greasy iron skillet, the outside so crusted with carbon you could carve your initials in it, nestled against the campfire rocks with chunky slices of browny-pink Spam sputtering away. Their destiny: tin-plate service with Libby’s pork ’n’ beans or Kraft dinner, whichever hadn’t been served with weenies the night before.

Not that we ate Spam routinely, but it suited many of us Canadian campers to a T. It was tasty, and, given a slice of nice crispy-fried Spam today, you might well agree though you’d likely never admit to such pedestrian tastes, at least not publicly.

It was definitely economical, coming in at something like a dime a serving for a family of five. And it was nice and high in fat, efficiently fuelling the average human body, notably smaller than the average body today despite the consumption of such indulgences as Spam and its counterparts, Prem, Spork, Mor and other fun-named products that could have been Spock’s cousins on Star Trek.

But the biggest bonus: Spam was safe and practical for those pre-RV family camp moments, when the fridge was a cooler with a bag of ice that was more often than not replaced only after it had long turned to water.

Canning is a form of partial cooking. When done right – which housemarm in the 1800s wasn’t terrified of inadvertently killing off her whole family with a jar of potted meat gone wrong? – it can be a very effective way of preserving flavour and good health. Food science expert Harold McGee notes that 114-year-old canned meat has been "eaten without distaste, if not exactly with pleasure." Presumably everyone lived to tell about it.

We pretty much have World War II to thank for popularizing canned meat – the convenience, the idea of eating out of tins and all that. The mainstay of K rations, for men in the frontlines who had limited capability of cooking, and C rations, for those further back who could, was canned meat, including Spam, and cheese products (don’t ask).

Three meals of rations a day delivered a whopping 8,300 calories with 99 grams of protein. And if you think that’s unthinkable, a third type of ration delivered even more calories in the form of fortified chocolate bars specially formulated not to melt, even in the tropics. Now someone should market that for campers and hikers today.

Before the war a savvy housewife could choose from 12 varieties of canned meat; after the war, there were more like 40. Today, only Spam, which was first introduced in 1937 as "Hormel’s Spiced Ham," is widely distributed.

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