During the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, no military family’s kitchen pantry was complete without a few cans of Spam.
We were living in Mannheim, Germany, and I was about 6 years old when I first remember the blue can with the perfectly formed hunk of meat inside.
My father was a M60 tank commander, and when Dad was home from field exercises, I loved the fact that he would cook breakfast on Sunday for the family. To enjoy the Spam usually meant enduring his asking, then telling us kids, to eat runny fried eggs, but his fried spam was second to none, and I would manage to consume a few bites of the runny yoke and the rubbery egg white between bites of the perfectly cooked spam.
Mastering the can . . .
Opening a can of Spam was no easy task, and was potentially dangerous too. Today, Spam cans practically open themselves, but in the 1960s, it was a real process.
I suppose our can opening technology was a bit primitive because in the early 1960s, NASA was busy putting men on the moon and building atomic bombs to keep the Russians at bay, so much so that few, if any, engineers, were working on easier, safer ways to open cans.
First, you had to remove the key from bottom of the can, then you had to wind the key around the can, stripping away a narrow ribbon of razor sharp metal. This was our favorite part of the process as the resulting key and tin ribbon looked a lot like clock springs and I loved anything that had the potential to result in a trip to emergency room, resulting in stitches and Tetanus shots.
Naturally, the task of opening the can of spam fell to Dad, as the process was potentially dangerous and he wanted to demonstrate the correct way to open the can. He would work deftly, stopping only once to take a drag from his cigarette or maybe to have a sip from cup of coffee, slowly working his way around the can.
Houston, we have touchdown . . .
I can remember watching intently as my Dad removed the Spam can top, then inverted the can and helped the glistening Spam meat slide out onto a plate with the nudge of a fork.
Next, he would make slices about 1/4 of an inch thick then put some butter or Crisco into a skillet then would carefully slide in the slices of spam once the skillet was hot.
In a few seconds the kitchen was filled with the wonderful smell and sound of sizzling Spam and after a minute or two on each side, my Dad put them on a plate with a paper napkin to soak up some of the grease.
Once the eggs were done, it was chow time and we all dug in. The table chatter would die down as everyone focused on their plate and took their first mouthful. Life was good.
After I left home in the mid 1970s, I cooked some Spam a time or two, but it just wasn’t the same. Maybe it was because as I got older and figured out what Spam was really made of, or maybe it was because it was just a part of a family gathering mostly connected to when we lived in Germany and I lived at home.
The right stuff
I remember watching the movie “The Right Stuff”, which is a great film about our space program, and in one scene Chuck Yaeger refers to the astronauts about to go up in Mercury capsules as “Spam in a Can” and I looked at Spam in a whole new light.
Once in a while, I pass by the little blue cans in the grocery store and I think about the simple pleasures and these fond memories of dad cooking spam—a great family tradition.
But then I put the can back on the shelf and head over to the butcher section of the grocery store for something that is not surrounded by metal and has a more natural shape.
Editor’s note: There was a time when Spam was something that came in a can and could be cooked many different ways—not something delivered to your email box.