A good read and recalls one of the classic Monty Python sketches. Enjoy Hamming it up It fuelled the war against Hitler, gave us that legendary Monty Python sketch, and has electronic junk mail named after it. As Spam prepares to sell itself to a new generation Jonathan Glancey recalls some memorable school dinners, while Matthew Fort says he never could resist a second slice Friday November 5, 2004 The Guardian I like Spam. Or, at least, I think I like Spam. Like millions of us, I expect, I last ate Spam at school. When you went to school in the 1960s and 70s, you had Spam for lunch at least once a week. There was Spam on Mondays in the guise of fritters and Spam on Wednesdays or Thursdays in summer in vaguely washed salads. Spam was served at infants', prep, comprehensive, grammar and public schools. Rich or poor, we all liked Spam because it was usually the best food you got at school in the days of bitter cheese flan, sodden, bony fish, gristle-and-grease meat pie and mashed potatoes with vomit-inducing hard green lumps in. We liked Spam because it was pink and smooth and rather tasty and had no nasty, unexpected bits in it. I liked Spam, too, because I could make myself a sandwich with it when I was very young. Also, I liked opening the tin with its built-in metal key. Perhaps I liked Spam, too, because it reminded me of the very last express steam locomotives to run in and out of London. The streamlined West Country and Battle of Britain Pacifics at the heads of boat trains to Southampton or even the Bournemouth Belle were nicknamed Spam Cans by locospotters because of their "air-smoothed" casing which made them look like tinned steam engines. Many of the boys, and even some of the girls, who watched these locomotives at the ends of the platforms at Waterloo ate Spam sandwiches while waiting to see whether it would be 34002 Salisbury or 34051 Winston Churchill, Spam Cans both, at the head of the next train. School and scheduled British steam trains seem far off today. So does Spam. And yet the tinned pink luncheon meat, manufactured since 1937 by Hormel Foods of Austin, Minnesota, is about to launch a £2m advertising campaign to promote the virtues of the processed meat that American GIs liked to call "the ham that didn't pass its physical". Perhaps Hormel clearly feels the need to make a dramatic splash to get us to look at Spam again. Certainly many chefs working in Britain haven't opened a tin in decades, while at least one claims never to have heard of the stuff. "I'm not sure if I know what this Spam is," says Raymond Blanc. "What you describe sounds OK, maybe, for an eight-year-old, but not for an adult. We have plenty of cheap, peasant pork dishes in France, so who needs this Spam? And where does the pork come from? I would like to know that before I eat it." Matthew Drennan, Irish-born editor of Delicious magazine, is almost as equally in the dark. "Spam? Oh, ***** no, we didn't eat that in Ireland. I'm sure I've never opened a tin, and if I did, I haven't a clue what I'd do with it. What I know about Spam is the jokes I encountered when I settled in England 20 years ago. Otherwise, I'm not much use on the subject." Heston Blumenthal, chef-owner of the Fat Duck restaurant at Bray, Berkshire, does remember Spam fritters. "I liked the bits of batter at the edge best, but not the Spam. Spam was the sort of tinned food you'd win in a junior school hamper. I think of Spam along with ageing unopened tins of Fray Bentos corned beef and Tyne Brand faggots. Who did eat them?" Those of us who have been led to associate Spam solely with junk emails in recent years are clearly cut off from the Spam belt and the almost religious esteem in which Spam is held by its millions of hungry fans not only in Britain and the United States, but worldwide. Did you know that more Spam is scoffed in Guam than anywhere else? Or that in Hawaii it is eaten, Japanese-style, as a delicacy wrapped in seaweed and sticky rice? Or that at last year's Spammie Awards, held at London's Savoy hotel, Francine's fish and chip shop in Plymouth won the Best Spam Fritter in Britain category? Nor did I, but then I have been living Spam-free since I left school. Mind you, we've eaten enormous quantities of this "luncheon meat" since Spam arrived. American soldiers were so impressed by our hunger for the stuff (we were just plain hungry, as it happens) that England was dubbed Spamland. Not that the US troops themselves were impartial; many second world war veterans recall eating it three times a day. Uncle Sam was often referred to as Uncle Spam, food depots were dubbed Spam Canyons, and one military camp in the South Pacific was named Spamville. GIs used Spam as an alternative gun lubricant, sun protection "cream", and, when hardened in the sun, as stand-in playing cards. Margaret Thatcher, a wartime teenager in Grantham, vividly remembers the excitement of opening a tin of Spam one Boxing Day for lunch. In his memoirs, Nikita Khrushchev recalled how essential Spam had been in keeping Red Army troops on the march against Hitler. Capitalists and communists alike employed Spam in the fight against fascism. By the time Berlin fell, more than 100m tins of Spam had been shipped to Europe and the Soviet Union from the States. Spam is one of those odd words that makes us laugh. Monty Python's Flying Circus made us choke on our infantile school fritters in 1970 with its Spam sketch in which Eric Idle goes into a greasy spoon and asks Terry Jones's waitress , "What have you got, then? She replies: "Well, there's egg and bacon; egg, sausage, and bacon; egg and Spam; egg, bacon, and Spam; egg, bacon, sausage and Spam; Spam, bacon, sausage, and Spam; Spam, egg, Spam, Spam, bacon, and Spam; Spam, Spam, Spam, egg, and Spam; Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, baked beans, Spam, Spam, Spam and Spam; or lobster thermidor-aux-crevettes with a mornay sauce garnished with truffle pate, brandy, and a fried egg on top and Spam." (This ubiquity, so one theory goes, is why annoying repetitive junk email came to be called spam.) So, what is Spam? Each tin contains a pink slab of blended pork shoulder, a cheap fatty cut of the pig, ham, salt, water, sugar, sodium nitrate and spices wrapped in gelatine. It was invented by Jay C Hormel who called his canned meat "Hormel's Spiced Ham", which didn't seem to do the trick. The following year, New York actor Kenneth Daigneau, brother of a former Hormel Foods vice-president, came up with the competition-winning name Spam, the "Sp" from spice, the "am" from ham. The rest was truly history, because when the US went to war it shipped Spam, along with Coca-Cola, Lucky Strikes, and Hershey Bars, to wherever its soldiers fought. But is it good for you? "A serving of Spam is high in fat and salt," says Patrick Holford of the Institute of Optimum Nutrition. "A double serving would contain more than the amount of salt that we would recommend anyone eat in a day. There's sugar in Spam. Would you normally spread sugar on your meat? And there's sodium nitrate which is a preservative that combined with nitrosamines in your body could be dangerous in the long run." Not exactly good for you, then. Imagine telling this to those in charge of America's civil defence preparations in the 1950s when vacuum-packed Spam was hailed as having an infinite shelf life. If Armageddon came, there would always be nuclear-free Spam for tea. Even today, Americans eat 3.8 cans of it a second, and it is available in 99% of US grocery stores. To date, more than six billion cans have been sold. Spam, of course, makes other tasty, and equally adventurous dishes. Hormel Foods' own recommended recipes include Spam Turkey Chilli Wraps, Spam Chimichangas and Spam Cupcakes. Real enthusiasts should turn to those rival offerings, The Spam Cookbook by Linda Eggars or Spam, The Cookbook by Marguerite Patten, a Ministry of Food adviser during the second world war. "There's nothing wrong with tinned meat as such," says the food writer and former gastro-pub chef, Tom Norrington-Davies. "But, I would worry about where the pork in Spam is sourced. I did eat Spam as a schoolboy, but not since. My mother stuffed potatoes with Spam, though; if I was going to cook a dish like this again, I'd use pancetta rather than Spam. I guess Spam still sells because it's cheap and easy to store. We really shouldn't be eating so much cheap meat for all sorts of ethical, health and animal husbandry reasons." Spam is best eaten - if it must be eaten - as it comes from its distinctive can, or else deep-fried. I might yet give it a go again, but as this would be like going back to school, it might never happen. 'The sharp whiff of porky concentrate' "Pork (895), salt, starch, water, ham (2%), sugar, stabiliser: trisodium diphosphate, flavourings, antioxidant: sodium ascorbat, preservative: sodium nitrite. GLUTEN FREE," proclaims the label on a tin of Spam. Curiously, it offers no nutritional analysis, but given that a tin of Spam Lite serves up 17g of fat, not to mention 227 calories, per 100g of Spam, it may be a wise precaution on the part of the manufacturers. I suppose the only surprise is the percentage of meat - 75% pork and 2% ham. Open the can (which I could only with difficulty and a pair or pliers), and what you find is a solid rectangular block of pink substance streaked here and there with white. It is dense, curiously dry, with a neutral, middle-of-nowhere flavour, well salted and very slightly sweet. It may be the flavour - or absence of it - or the texture, but it is curiously compulsive to eat. Another slice follows the first. Of course, to generations brought up on pté de campagne, rillettes, pancetta and salamis, the attractions of Spam must seem hopelessly old-fashioned - incomprehensible, even - but for those of us who grew up in the pre-charcuterie age, there is something evocative, Proustian almost, about the sharp whiff of porky concentrate when you first open the tin and set about the first slice of chopped pork and ham. That pleasure may not last the first mouthful, but it is there nevertheless. It is of a piece with Fray Bentos steak and kidney puddings in tins and Nestlé's condensed milk and Heinz spaghetti in tomato sauce, one of the defining gastronomic experiences of childhood. To me it brings back mornings spent on Thames weirs ledgering with Spam for the elusive barbel. Indeed, so elusive were the barbel that they never got to try the lump of Spam. Certainly, they never got to taste as much as I did; Spam has an irresistible allure at 4.30am when you haven't had any breakfast. And then there were those Spam-enhanced suppers in the days before the panoply of meats and meals that supermarkets now set before us - battered, deep-fried Spam fritters, Spam braised with cloves and molasses, barbecued Spam, Spamburgers, and all the rest. In fact, it might be better to think of Spam as a forerunner to chicken tikka masala or chow mein or spaghetti carbonara. It was a proto-convenience food, an instrument of liberation from kitchen drudgery, a tastebud tickler of the past and the future. MF Recipe: barbecued spam 1 tin Spam; cloves; 5 tbsp sugar; 1 dsp water; 1 large tsp mustard; 1 dsp vinegar. Put Spam in a shallow baking dish. Score the top and insert the cloves. Bake in a moderate oven for 10 minutes. Mix the sugar, mustard vinegar and water together and pour over the Spam. Bake for another 20 minutes, basting frequently.