A Taste of Americana

 

When it comes to American icons, I’m a traditionalist.  I love the Statue of Liberty, the Corn Palace, bluegrass and blue jeans.  And yes, I’m fond of Norman Rockwell’s illustrations, particularly his portrayal of Rosie the Riveter.

When Rosie appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1943, my parents were living in the Quad Cities. Dad worked at John Deere, while my mother spent her days helping the war effort by riveting aircraft. She took great satisfaction in the work, trusted her partner, and always enjoyed telling stories about Hellcats, nose cones and turrets. 

Even after my parents moved back to Iowa and her work at the factory ended, she kept a cherished copy of the Post  in her cedar chest and a torn-out image of Rosie tucked between some books in the den. When Hillary Clinton adapted the better-known “We can Do It” poster for her Presidential campaign, Mom wasn’t happy. “That’s just not right, for them to call her Rosie,” she’d say. “That’s not the real Rosie. I’ve got Rosie’s picture in my closet.”

As so often happens, Mom was both wrong and right. The “We Can Do It!” poster, produced a year earlier than Rockwell’s cover, became the most iconic of the Rosie images.  On the other hand, when Westinghouse historian Ed Reis was interviewed in 2003, he said:

“For the past 60 years, the popular image of the World War II-era female worker in the “We Can Do It” poster has evoked strength and empowerment. The American public identified the image as “Rosie the Riveter,” named for the women who were popping rivets on the West Coast, making bombers and fighters for aeronautical companies like Boeing.
But history tells a different story. In 1942, the Westinghouse Corporation, in conjunction with the War Production Coordinating Committee, commissioned  [J. Howard Miller, a Pittsburgh artist] to create a series of posters for the war effort. He based his “We Can Do It!” poster on a United Press photograph taken of Michigan factory worker Geraldine Hoff Doyle.
It was to be displayed for only two weeks in Westinghouse factories in the Midwest where women were making helmet liners. They made 13 million plastic helmet liners out of a material called Mycarta, the predecessor to Formica (which means “formerly Mycarta”). So, more aptly named, this woman is Molly the Mycarta Molder or Helen the Helmet Liner Maker.”

Historical complexities aside, Rockwell’s Rosie – modeled after Mary Doyle Keefe of Arlington, Vermont –  always has been my favorite. Today, I love her air of insoucience, her obvious competence and strength. As a child, I noticed other things. I was astonished by her brilliant red hair. I envied her freedom to roll up her sleeves and eat with a dirty face, and I was amazed that no one made her cut the sandwich she was clutching into lady-like halves.

That sandwich was the point of connection between us. In my world of grilled cheese and peanut butter, one of the greatest treats conceivable was a “Spamwich”, and I knew beyond any doubt Rosie was eating SPAM®. Sliced thin and fried crisp, served up on Wonder Bread with a little mayo or mustard, it seemed the best sandwich in the world. I couldn’t imagine anyone, child or adult, choosing to eat anything else. To put it another way, an iconic American worker deserved an iconic sandwich, and while the role of SPAM® in World War II had made some veterans distinctly ambivalent about the product, there’s no question it had become an icon.

Over the years, SPAM® lost some of its status, becoming a bit of a joke, shorthand for all that was low-brow, low-cost and low-quality. No one said, “Hey! C’mon over and we’ll fry up some SPAM®!” Given its shelf life, it still was tucked into hurricane supplies and stowed in boat galleys as an insurance policy, but it rarely was eaten. For all practical purposes, SPAM® disappeared from my life.

Until I traveled to Minnesota.


Minnesota’s an interesting place, a place where food and folklore seem inextricably meshed.  The Jolly Green Giant lives in Blue Earth, a community surrounded by rich farmland and canneries devoted to beans, corn and peas.

Just up the road in Bemidji, you can find a great Blue Ox named Babe hanging out with his friend, Paul Bunyan. I first met the pair when I was about ten years old and barely came up to Paul’s knee. The next morning, when I begged my parents to let me order the “Lumberjack Breakfast” at a local diner, a very wise waitress suggested one breakfast might do for all of us. It did, although I suspect the cook might have added some extra bacon.

After breakfast, there’s no reason not to take the advice of the Austin, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and head on over to the SPAM® Museum. As their website puts it,

“Few experiences in life are as meaningful and meaty-filled as those you’ll have at the magnificent SPAM® Museum. Referred to by some meat historians as The Guggenham, Porkopolis or M.O.M.A. (Museum Of Meat-Themed Awesomeness), the SPAM® Museum is home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of spiced pork artifacts.”

“Spiced pork artifacts” may be one of the most terrifying phrases in the English language, but they have a lovely building and a nice sculpture out front that pays tribute to those who gave their lives for the sake of potted meat.

Inside the museum, the history of the company and the people behind it is told beautifully, with galleries of early photographs showing the earliest days of the George Hormel “Provision Market”. George Hormel had begun his business life as a traveling wool and hide buyer. Eggs, wool, poultry and hides helped to keep the company in business while their trade in meat products was being developed.

As the business grew, the product line expanded and the Hormel name was imprinted on far more than slabs of bacon and salt-cured hams.

Technological advances were part of the food industry, and it wasn’t long before new forms of processing and packaging were being sold along with the food itself.

With the advent of new advertising technologies, Hormel saw their opportunity and sought out celebrity spokespeople to help them expand their market share.

Over the years, SPAM® became ubiquitous, permeating Minnesota culture so deeply that even traditional handcrafts were adapted to help promote the product. What could be better than a quilt or wall hanging to remind you of the virtues of SPAM®?

By the time I’d roamed the museum for an hour, I found myself wishing for a little café devoted to all things SPAM®-ish. Sliced and fried is fine, as far as it goes, but what about Chicken-fried SPAM®, SPAM® Flautas, scalloped SPAM® and the mysterious but strangely appealing SPAM®-alama-Ding-Dongs, which sound suspiciously like dessert? All these dishes and more were served at SPAMARAMA, a thirty-year-long tradition in Austin, Texas that helped keep SPAM® in the spotlight and Austin weird. Even The Smithsonian loved them some SPAMARAMA, sending their videographers to catch the action for their series called America: Wild and Wacky.

Finally, for those who don’t know the story of how SPAM® became “spam”, the bane of internet users world-wide, it was Monty Python and the Flying Circus whose skit resulted in electronic junk mail being named after a canned meat product. In the skit, which lasts about two-and-a-half minutes, actors use the word SPAM® more than a hundred times.

It wasn’t long before internet users began labeling unwanted communication that was noisy, annoying and unrelentingly repetitious “spam”, and the name stuck. In 1998 the New Oxford Dictionary of English, which previously had defined “spam” only in relation to the trademarked food product, added a second definition to its entry for “spam”:  ‘irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of newsgroups or users.”

Since my visit to the Museum, I haven’t begun serving up SPAM® on a regular basis, and I’ve grown even more obsessive about keeping spam out of my inbox. Still, since 1937 this quintessentially American food has been feeding soldiers and kids, college students, cruisers and struggling families. I still keep it in my hurricane supplies, and one of these nights I might just fry up some slices, nice and crisp. I’ll use whatever bread I have and add a dollop of mayo. In honor of Rosie I might even forego slicing my spamwich in half.  I think it would add to the enjoyment and, after all, what good is an icon if you can’t enjoy it?

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Published in: on January 26, 2013 at 10:54 am  Comments (120)  
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  1. What a beautiful story about your mother, and how great that she kept that icon of a poster where she could smile at it now and then and remember ‘when.’

    I remember about ten years ago a friend in Costa Rica said he wanted everyone to come over for fried spam samwiches. he was quite proud of his culinary creations!

    • Lisa,

      Mom was proud of her abilities as a riveter – just ask my cousin, who’s had more than a few airplanes and who works on them all the time. She sometimes tried to get him to let her come over to his place and do some riveting. I suspect a lot of her good memories were associated more with the camaraderie of the workplace than the work itself, but I can’t be sure. In any event, it was a good time in her life.

      It’s amazing how far and wide Spam has spread. I was amazed to discover Hawaii consumes more of the stuff than anywhere else in the world. Apparently Spam sushi is no joke!

      Linda

      • I blew out a laugh just now! “Spam Sushi!”

        Your mother was a amazing woman She could probably have passed on some riveting pointers at your cousin’s hangar!

  2. Hi Linda:

    We had our fair share of ©Spam when my father worked for the United Fruit Company in Bocas del Toro. Every time we bought our food (every two weeks), my mother would always include at least four cans of ©Spam. (We were eight in the family.)

    After I left this beautiful place, ©Spam evaporated from my brain until you brought the subject with this blog post.

    Next time we go to the supermarket, I’ll see if I can find a can of ©Spam and have it for supper to walk down memory lane.

    Great post and awesome pictures. Thank you.

    Bye,

    Omar.-

    • Omar,

      What surprised me most at the museum were the varieties of Spam available. There was barbeque, garlic, peppered – so many I’d never heard of. One of the nice things about Spam is its flexibility. With a large family, it can be combined with eggs, potatoes and so on to stretch things out, and some of those flavors could add welcome variety.

      It’s funny how we forget some things, isn’t it? I had forgotten Spam until I went up to Minnesota after my mother’s funeral in October of 2011, and discovered the museum – and the Jolly Green Giant!

      Here’s another photo of Paul Bunyan and his ox from about 1956. Either the scenery has changed significantly or they moved the statues, although I can’t imagine that. I certainly have changed in the intervening years!

      Linda

  3. Great write-up about Spam and all of its glory. I don’t know how in the world you come up with such great ideas for an article but the photos are so good. I know that you must spend lots of time and effort on your posts.

    My parents bought spam and we ate it fried, I think served with eggs if there was no bacon in the house, My husband loved the stuff but I insisted that he stop eating it for spam has a high sodium content and lots of other things that are not so good.

    Thanks for a great memory inducer. You never fail to come through with something that is thought provoking in one way or the other.

    • Yvonne,

      This one’s been languishing in my files since my trip to Minnesota a year and a half ago. I had the photos ready to go, but just couldn’t “cook up” the right post to go with them!

      Now and then Spam and eggs would show up at our place, too – especially on a Sunday night when something had to land on the table but no one wanted to cook and there had been a big dinner.

      You’re right about the sodium content, but I was a little surprised to find that my worst fears about the ingredients were unfounded. The meat is mostly (90%) pork shoulder – no ears, feet or snouts! (Thank goodness!) That may be why it tastes better than some canned meat products I’ve come across.

      I do think it’s hard for people today to realize how significant some of the products of the 40s and 50s were for our parents. In a world of food shortages and ration coupons, being able to substitute a clove-studded Spam for a real ham wasn’t a horror – it was a treat.

      Linda

  4. It’s a shame Molly the Mycarta Molder didn’t catch on.

    Reading this feels like a fascinating history lesson and fun field trip all in one. Thanks as always for giving us a glimpse into your world.

    • Hippie Cahier,

      Well, let’s face it. Molly’s name would be far less riveting. ;)

      Do they still do field trips these days? I just realized that’s a phrase I haven’t heard in a long, long time. I loved our grade school field trips – to a dairy farm, a manufacturing plant, the State Capitol. I suppose liability and litigation concerns have put an end to them now.

      Well, I’m glad to have you along on this one! Glad you enjoyed it.

      Linda

      • The branches of The Native Plant Society of Texas have field trips, which get at the root of the organization’s reason for being. My involvement stems from 1999, when I went on my first one with the Austin chapter, and after that my knowledge of native plants really began to flower.

        • Not only that, all those trips have borne wonderful fruit for those of us who read your blog!

  5. Right after reading your post I immediately went to my email server and deleted all my spam…Thanks for the reminder.

    • oldsalt,

      Good for you! After all, we may fry Spam, but spam can fry a computer!

      Linda

  6. I love the idea of a Spam museum!

    Here in Britain there’s an awful lot of anti-Spam snobbery – to read some food writers you could be forgiven for thinking it was toxic. Personally, though, I love the stuff, especially in battered fritters, or simply fried.

    The Hormel ham-in-a-can ad took me back to the 50s, when whole, canned, chickens enjoyed a brief popularity here. Being pressure-cooked in the can did nothing for the birds cosmetically – quite the opposite – but in a country still affected by rationing, they were a tasty treat.

    For me, though, just beginning to find my feet in the kitchen, the jelly the birds were packed in was wonderful stuff, either spread on bread or used to flavour gravy or soup.

    We had our own version of ham-in-a-can too. Still do, in fact, but these days it’s a gristly, fatty horror, and best avoided!

    • Ron,

      As I mentioned to Yvonne, up above, I think it’s hard for younger people – under 40, perhaps – to grasp what things were like for people who’d been through the Depression and WWII. Some, like my mother, were so traumatized by aspects of that time it took her nearly until the end of her life to talk about it. Food snobbery of any sort is foolishness – a bit of a luxury for people who haven’t been hungry.

      I’ve never had the pleasure of one of those canned chickens, but you’ve reminded me of DAK bacon-in-a-can. It was the only sort of bacon that could be found when I worked in Liberia, and then only in one supermarket in Monrovia. But my goodness, what a treat it was! I just went looking, and much to my chagrin canned bacon is nearly impossible to find – though I did find instructions if I get the urge to do it myself.

      I don’t remember cooking those hams-in-a-can, but I know we had them. Trying to get them open with those “keys” that coiled up the metal strip around the lid was dangerous business. More than once someone in our household slit a finger open on those things.

      So nice to see you. I hope you’ve not been suffering with the weather conditions there.

      Linda

      • We have the canned hams here in Australia and for many years, I had great trouble using that key and, yes, had cut myself on the edges of the can. However, as our Christmas here is in the heat of summer, we never cooked that canned ham but served it as cold slices, including the aspic it came in, as a side dish to the turkey. It was delicious!

        • janina,

          That’s one great advantage to those hams, and the Spam. Being pre-cooked, they can serve very nicely without heating up the kitchen – and without any heat at all in the event of power loss!

          I still remember my mother becoming so frustrated with one of those keys she went looking for my dad and asked where his channel lock pliers were. She got them, clamped them on and finished opening the tin. It took dad about five minutes to “snap to” and come in to see what she was up to. ;)

          Linda

          • LOL….but, what are channel lock pliers….not in my educational vocabulary?! It sounds like your mum could take care of things quite nicely….

            • These babies – a very nice, tight grip!

            • LOL…yes, they look quite fierce…no wonder your Dad was always wondering what your mother was doing with them….LOL again! And, yes, I have seen these before, just didn’t know their name! …always learning…. ;)

  7. You covered a lot of ground in this piece, Linda. Well done, but you won’t have convinced me to try any soon…

    I had enough of it when I was growing up!

    Thanks for following up on the Rosie topic too. You mentioned Rosie the Riveter to me several weeks back. I now realize that I had read that article when it was first published, but then forgot about it. I really enjoyed hearing about your musings as a child and your mother’s preference for the Original Rosie portrait.

    • Lynda,

      That’s ok. I’ve been trying to make myself like Brussels sprouts after a lifetime of irrational revulsion. I’ve come to the point of being able to get them down, but I think I’m about ready to abandon the project. To each her own, as they say. Besides, they tell me Madonna’s an American icon, too, but you won’t find me at her concerts any more than we’ll find Spam on your table!

      Recently, I was talking with a friend about writing and mentioned that the “percolation time” for some of these posts can be amazingly long. This one’s taken a year and a half. Who knows why? But clearly, the thinking starts long before the writing does.

      It’s always quite an experience for a child to realize that parents have likes and dislikes, and even strong preferences. Still, it surprised me that Mom’s feelings about Rosie were so strong after so many years. After she died I gave away Rosie the Riveter jigsaw puzzles, needlework patterns and playing cards, but I kept the magazine. ;)

      Linda

      • Those children (and adults) who vehemently refuse to eat broccoli and brussel sprouts, saying it tastes bitter, have been vindicated. There is a genetic variation which enables some people to taste a component (propylthiouracil ) of both vegetables that has a bitter taste. You probably have that genetic variation, so you can be justified in your dislike of the vegetable. It’s not in your mind after all, it’s in your genes!

        https://www.23andme.com/health/Bitter-Taste-Perception/

        • Now I’m thinking about Brussels sprouts and my childhood meals. Brussels sprouts did show up from time to time, but very, very rarely. When we had them, my dad would ask, “What? These things again?” That could be an indication of the side of the family that passed on the gene! Very interesting.

  8. I’ve never been a fan of Spam, sorry! I remember my mom serving it to us kids once, and that was the end of that. Rockwell’s Rosie appears decidedly masculine to me — something about her arms. The poster version, I think, conveys strength in femininity. Doesn’t hurt that she’s got her makeup impeccably applied, either!

    • Debbie,

      No need to apologize. I remember the first time someone put stewed figs in front of me. I managed to be polite, but if I’m lucky I’ll never have to deal with those things again!

      Your comment about the “We Can Do It” Rosie and her make-up tickles me. Mom used to say, “I don’t know what she’s been doing, but she hasn’t been in a factory.” Mom and her friends would wear lipstick, but that was it – she said one of her friends tried coming to work wearing rouge and the rudimentary mascara that was available then, and the heat and sweat took care of it in short order. I certainly understand that. I’ve not worn makeup at work, other than lipstick and sunscreen, for twenty years. Outside on the docks isn’t any friendlier to it than inside an airplane.

      You’re certainly right that Rockwell’s Rosie appears more muscular, but he was an illustrator, and used his art to make a point. If you look carefully at his version, there are some other interesting additions. See the halo above her goggles? and the copy of “Mein Kampf” beneath her foot? I love these details – they’re part of what makes exploring Rockwell’s work so interesting.

      Linda

      • You piqued my interest enough that I went back and took another peek. Wow, amazing I didn’t notice the halo or the Mein Kampf the first time! Thanks for giving me another reason to re-visit!

        • And WOL mentioned another tidbit that confirms my first impression. Rockwell posed Rosie like Michaelangelo’s Isaiah. I’ve always been reminded of Michaelangelo when looking at Rosie, but when I looked at his statue of Moses, it didn’t seem right. Isaiah does.

  9. Hi Linda, So enjoyed your piece on Spam and Rosie. Joan sent it along to me. You and she were just on your way to Blue Earth to see the Green Giant and then on to the Austin Spam Museum when I last saw you in Fairmont. Such fun writing you do and I loved revisiting the Spam Monty Python video which I hadn’t seen in years. Luckily I never had to eat Spam although I do remember playing with leftover ration stamps after the war. (That would be WWII.) Very nice site you have developed here. Thanks for sharing!
    Karen (one of the Hotties group : o )

    • Karen!

      What a delight to have you stop by. Joan keeps me more-or-less up to date with your doings. I think she’s hoping the deep freeze is gone by the time she next gets up there.

      That was such a wonderful visit I had with you all. I suspect you didn’t see the first story that emerged from our time together. I called it “The Corn Whisperer”, and used photos from that afternoon we went out to try and find some bittersweet along the fences. You must have thought we were crazy, to want to take photos of corn fields, but I made good use of the photos.

      Spam, war and rationing – what a time that was. I do hope we never face such conditions again, but if we do, some of us older ones may cope better than the young’uns. We’ll see.

      I hope all is well with you. One of these days I need to get back up there – I’d love to do a long trip that takes in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. We’ll see.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for the kind words. A little fun never hurts anyone, and I surely had a good bit of fun with you all!

      Linda

  10. Now you’ve done it. I’ll be off on a Python kick again and driving Hubby nuts for the next day or two belting out, “We eat ham and jam and Spamalot! Spamalot!”

    You’d think they’d have a branch museum in Hawaii, woudn’t you?

    If you’d mentioned your mom’s wartime service as a riveter, I’d forgotten. I’ll bet it was the fact that she was doing what was considered a man’s job and the camaraderie of the workplace which made that time memorable for her.

    I’m sure that sandwich Rockwell’s Rosie is eating is made of Spam and enjoying every bite. It was before my time but I recall hearing family members talk about rationing and having some meat, even canned, was a treat.

    Mama would fry up some Spam, from time to time. Usually on Saturday nights. She cooked full meals Sunday through Friday. Saturday was her night ‘off.’ She cooked but it was usually something extremely fast and easy to fix. Dad wasn’t always enthused with her Saturday night choices but he didn’t complain.

    I haven’t had any for years but I might just get me some and join you in a sandwich.

    Your dad worked at John Deere? My dad sold the things!

    • Gué,

      Dad worked at the Deere assembly plant in East Moline, Illinois. I’m not sure when he started – he’d been there a couple of years before he and Mom got married, so I’d say 1936. They moved back to Iowa in 1945/46, and he went to work for Maytag as an industrial engineer. I don’t know what it means now, but back in the day “industrial engineer” meant “buffer between labor and management”. That probably helped to explain his five heart attacks. (Irony of ironies, he died of cancer…)

      I think you’re partly right about Mom’s enjoyment of her work, but I suspect it also was the case that she liked having a specific job to do without having to be responsible for anything but that limited job. She spent years being responsible for her sisters after her mother died when she was sixteen, and I know it wasn’t easy for any of them. They were truly poor, and really had to struggle. Having the stability of marriage and a regular income had to be a tremendous relief.

      Saturday night for your mom, Sunday night for mine. Fast and easy were key – leftovers, sandwiches, or just browsing the refrigerator. It was a little more complicated then because there weren’t any microwaves! Even “not cooking” generally required some cooking.

      I know this – I’m grateful for all the lessons Mom taught about how to stretch those cans of Spam. I have a feeling they may be useful in the future – and pity the poor folks who know nothing but drive-throughs and Lean Cuisines!

      Linda

      • Maytag is where I remember you saying your dad worked.

        Industrial engineer? Dad had an agricultural engineering degree from Clemson. I’m not sure exactly what being an agricultural engineer entailed. I need to remember to ask him when I go visit this next time.

        He sold and repaired tractor equipment for close to 20 years for various companies: International Harvester, Ford, David Brown, Massey Ferguson, John Deere. Sometimes as salesman for dealership; others, as owner of a dealership.

        In 1979, he was approached by Sumter Tech for a teaching position for their young farmers courses. He had no teaching experience but they were looking for someone with an agricultural engineering degree. The teaching position sounded interesting and it was an opportunity to escape the dealership, where he was having increasing problems with his partner.

        • Gué,

          By the time I finished reading assorted answers to the question, “What does an ag engineer do?” I was so intrigued I was ready to go off and be one!

          Farm equipment sales isn’t an easy job. During my undergraduate years I worked for Clay Equipment (turnkey milking parlor installations, among other things) and those salesmen worked hard. I can imagine your dad might have welcomed a move to the classroom.

          I had to do a double-take with Sumter Tech. I learned early to misspell Ft. Sumter and have spent the rest of my life looking for the missing “p” when it isn’t there. ;)

          Linda

  11. Love your Spam story. It brought fond memories of your stay with us in Fairmont,MN.
    Phyllis

    • Phyllis,

      My word, what a treat! How nice of you to stop by. As I said to Karen, above, I’m glad you enjoyed the story, because I certainly enjoyed my time with you!

      I mentioned The Corn Whisperer to her – the little story that resulted from our drive in the country to find bittersweet. And I still have my dogwood branches!

      Yet to come is a story about the Hobo Memorial. I’ve some fine photos from there, too… so many memories from such a short time!

      I hope all’s well with you, and that you aren’t freezing to death. I know you folks are tough, but I see you have another winter weather advisory and then even colder temps. Stay warm!

      Linda

  12. I consumed a good number of fried Spam sandwiches in my childhood, on buttered white bread toast with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Add a glass of iced tea with lemon, and that was a favorite summer time lunch at my house.

    My dad, who was in the Navy in WWII, would not touch the stuff. And that’s saying a lot because he would eat anything. Said he had enough of it when he was at sea, and couldn’t take anymore.

    • Becca,

      Now I am hungry for one of those sandwiches! Not only were they good, they were one of the first things I learned to “cook”.

      I had an uncle who served in the Pacific during WWII who would have understood your dad’s avoidance. He was killed, and I never met him, but I have a clutch of his letters, and he mentions Spam being pretty regular aboard ship. He clearly was grateful for it, and he clearly would have enjoyed a change in menu.

      Linda

  13. I think “Mycarta” might more properly be Micarta and Formica apparently got its name because it was a substitute “for mica”. Formica, by the way, may be making a comeback.

    As for SPAM, we too had spam-and-eggs growing up but it wasn’t fried as a bacon substitute, it was diced and mixed in with scrambled eggs. Not as overpowering that way. Try it sometime!

    • Al,

      My gosh, this is complicated! You’re exactly right – “mycarta” should be “Micarta” and “Formica” got its name from “for mica”. But the two share a common history.

      Micarta was developed by George Westinghouse around 1910. In the meantime, Daniel O’Conor and Herbert Faber, who were working at Westinghouse in 1912, came up with the Formica patent, then left Westinghouse to establish their own company in 1913 and manufacture “formica” products. So both are laminates, and both were developed at Westinghouse at approximately the same time.

      I found some confirmation of the early date for Micarta on the Norplex-Micarta site. As it turns out, their merger took place in 2003, but Dennis Ford, VP and General Manager, affirms that some of their technologies “go back to the early 1900s”.

      I always liked Formica, myself. We had a kitchen table with that “boomerang” pattern – what a blast from the past!

      I don’t believe I’m going to fry up a whole can of Spam for sandwiches, so I’ll give the diced-up-in-eggs a try. That actually sounds pretty good.

      And here’s a chuckle. I started wondering if anyone had come up with a parody called “Green Eggs and Spam”. There are some pretty bad poems, but even better, an FBI page from 2003 has the report of a phishing scheme that came to be known as “Green Eggs and Spam”!

      Linda

      Linda

      • I hadn’t watched the 1958 French Formica commercial until after I posted here. If you haven’t either, check it out. C’est Formica!

    • Coincidentally, formica was the Latin word for ‘ant.’ You may remember the line in Them!, a science fiction movie from 1954 that featured gigantic ants that went around killing people: “There was enough formic acid in him to kill 20 men.” It so happens that ants’ bodies contain high amounts of a substance that chemists isolated and appropriately named formic acid. The tie-in of all this to your post is that there are cultures around the world that eat ants, although some people find that no more appealing than eating Spam.

      • I missed “Them!”, although I did enjoy “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”. I’ve never been offered ants as an appetizer, although in Liberia termites (aka “bug-a-bugs”) often are deep-fried and eaten rather like popcorn. Yes, I tried them. As so often happens, they’re better with beer – a lot of beer. I’ll stick with the Spam – or fruit bat, which happens to taste like chicken. ;)

  14. So I just called my mother to ask her about her spam memories. As I recall she ate it as a child and fed it to us, too because she had eaten it. And do you know what she said? “Gosh that tasted awful.” And all these years I thought it was something she didn’t mind at all. I tried to be a good sport and not complain, but it tasted so salty!

    When I prodded her further, she said, “it was easy and it had no competition…there was nothing else like it, so we ate it because it came out of a can and it was the newest invention in food.” I think we could say the same thing about TV dinners, soy burgers, hamburger helper, potato flakes, and vanilla cookie packages for $1.99. But thankfully we got smarter about our food choices. I do prefer the fresh vegetables and real food, foodie movement, if you will.

    But yet along side spam for Saturday night dinners, it’s interesting to consider there was real home cooked food every other day of the week that is hard to match and in many cases only a memory.

    How interesting your mother was an “original riveter.” I know she had to have been proud of her role and you too, in keeping the magazine. I bet she had her own image of Rosie, and if the magazine captured an image that met her approval, I thank you for sharing that image of “true Americana” right down to the lesson on the spamwich and spam.
    Another very interesting post.

    • Georgette,

      Isn’t it an amazement when we find out what our parents really thought about this or that? It was decades before I learned my own mother hated green peas – she ate them only because she wanted me to eat them. When she moved to Texas and I made a tuna casserole one night, she very carefully picked out every single pea. When I asked “What up, Mom?”, she told the truth. She couldn’t stand the things.

      I was trying to think about those other “new foods” that came along. One of the earliest was Velveeta. I still remember when it came in a balsa wood box with a sliding lid. That lid was my mother’s choice for a tool of discipline. Balsa wood provides a very satisfying “sproinnnng” and snap when applied to a child’s bottom. It wasn’t applied often – mostly because after a couple of whacks, all she had to do was reach for it to bring my foolishness to a screeching halt.

      In this world of magnificent food choices, it’s hard for many to envision a time when Spam was a godsend. My folks didn’t choose Spam over chicken or beef because they preferred the taste. They chose it because it was available and it was cheap. There were times when the choice was Spam or no meat – especially once they weren’t in a small town any longer and even the Sunday chicken wasn’t readily available.

      Mom not only was a riveter – she was pretty good with sandpaper, too. I didn’t know until I’d been varnishing boats for about ten years that her father had spent some years varnishing woodwork in homes. She would work with him, doing the prep sanding. She used to nag me to let her go to work with me. I couldn’t let her on the boats, but for a couple of years she’d come along and work on removable pieces under a shade tree. ;)

      Linda

  15. My mom was born and raised on a farm, but her older sister was raised in the city (My grandmom had 12 kids — her fifth child and first daughter was born sickly, and her husband’s two maiden sisters kept her in Houston to be near a doctor. When she was well enough to return, she went back home, but she began to “pine” for her aunts. By then, they’d had two more girls. Her daddy couldn’t stand to see her pine, and they sent her back to be raised by his sisters, one of whom was the first woman to work in a bank in Houston.)

    My mom idolized this big sister and determined to have for herself the kind of life her sister had in the big city. She went to secretarial school and was entering the workforce as WWII broke out. She worked for Humble Oil (which later merged with Standard Oil to become Exxon), and for a law firm. My mom always worked, except for the time she took off to have us, and we were latchkey children. I guess you could say she was “liberated” before “liberated” was cool.

    We used to have Spam cooked with scrambled eggs, and also cooked whole with pineapple rings pinned to it with cloves. Ham and pineapple remains one of my favorite combinations. I don’t remember us having it fried, but we probably did. We also used to have Gebhardt’s canned chili and scrambled eggs.

    In reading further, I learned Rockwell posed his Rosie in the same pose that Michaelangelo posed Isaiah on the Sistine chapel. Did you notice that she has a halo? The “We can do it” poster was originally to boost morale, but it has become iconic to the women’s movement as an affirmation of our ability to do whatever a man can do. One of the reasons I like the show “Holmes on Homes” is that he has women in his home remodeling crews. That’s also one of the reasons I liked the show “Toolbelt Diva.” One time the satellite repair person who came to fix my satellite TV when it malfunctioned was a woman. She had pink handled tools — to keep her fellow workers from borrowing them!

    • WOL,

      When it comes to “liberated women”, I sometimes laugh at what passes for that, today. Some self-appointed leaders of the “women’s movement” don’t have the competence and strength in their little fingers that our mothers and grandmothers had. For that matter, some of our political leaders don’t have the strength, wisdom and determination that our mothers and grandmothers had, but that’s another issue. ;)

      As another side note, I thought about you and your extended family at the farmers’ market last week, when I picked out a big bag of Satsumas. They weren’t from Froberg’s, but from another farm near Alvin – close enough!

      You solved a mystery for me with your further reading. I’ve always thought of Michaelangelo when looking at Rosie. The arms, of course. But I thought only of his statue of Moses, and when I did the comparision, it wasn’t quite right. “Isaiah” is exactly it. There are multiple sites that have the side-by-side comparision. Amazing. I did see the halo, and the copy of “Mein Kampf” underfoot. Rosie the Riveter, from a certain perspective, looks rather like Rosie the Avenging Angel. ;)

      Linda

  16. I had totally forgotten the connection between spam, the food, and Internet spam! I used to love spam sandwiches. I’m not sure I could summon up the courage to have one today, but they live in my memory with affection, along with Mom’s cream cheese and olive sandwiches: pimento-stuffed olives, sliced in tidy rings and set in rows on the cream cheese. A fine bit of Americana, and, as always with you, its story so well told!

    • Susan,

      When I began using computers, it was years before I made the connection between SPAM and spam. I had an intuitive understanding of the pairing, but didn’t see the video for years. I wasn’t much of a Monty Python fan, so that delayed my education!

      When I finally took a look at the ingredient label of Spam, the product is much more appealing than many things found on the shelf. It is higher in sodium and fat than I’d want on a regular basis, but it’s missing the chemicals and nastiness common to so many processed foods.

      A sort of side note: when I went up to Kansas City last fall, I had barbeque at a local restaurant. It was the best I’d ever had. It was so good I asked the manager about the cut of meat used, as it obviously wasn’t brisket. She said it was beef shoulder. I thought about that when I learned in the process of writing this that Spam is made from 90% pork shoulder. That may help explain why it tastes so good!

      Did you ever do those cream cheese and olive sandwiches open-faced? I remember trimming the crusts, then doing artistic arrangements: olives in an X, olives in an O. What fun we had!

      Linda

  17. I just found this which is relevant: Rosie the Frontliner

    • oldsalt,

      That’s one sure sign of a true icon – it lurks around in the collective unconscious, and is adapted over and over to new circumstances.
      Good find!

      Linda

  18. What a wonderful and fascinating post! I can’t resist adding a spam fact and a spam memory.

    Spam travelled with American soldiers to Korea where the local folks really took to it. It is still wildly popular there and considered a treat and an “upscale” food.

    But here in the States it has always had a more modest reputation. When I was a little boy being raised by my father as a single parent, we ate spam fairly often. But my Daddy said it was “roast duck” and I had no reason to doubt him. So during my early childhood, I knew it as “roast duck.”

    • Bill,

      When I was reading about the history of Spam’s spread throughout the world, I was surprised to see it so popular throughout SE Asia, Korea, Hawaii and so on. I must say – they’ve found some unique ways to serve it, and it seems to be one of those foods that fits in with a multitude of cuisines.

      Your Dad’s designation of Spam as “roast duck” reminds me of the wonderful scene in the film “A Christmas Story” where duck gets renamed “Chinese turkey”. Parents do what they have to do. My mother tried her best, renaming Brussels sprouts “baby cabbages”, but the addition of the “cute factor” didn’t help much.

      Obviously, your dad was both loving and creative. Thanks for sharing the memory!

      Linda

      • That he was. When he served us leftovers all mixed together, he told us it was “goulash.” I can’t help but get a little choked up when I think of roast duck and goulash.

        Also meant to mention that ever since reading your post I’ve had this jingle (no doubt familiar to you) stuck in my head: “In the valley of the jolly (Ho Ho Ho) Green Giant.”

        • That jingle’s not only familiar, I can hear the jolly one’s voice. Oh, my. The other jingle that plays perfectly in my mind is – well, you’ll remember it.

          I found something about George Hormel that reminded me of you and Cherie and your endeavors. As soon as I can re-find it, I’ll bring it over.

  19. I now have a sudden craving for a Spam sandwich. Yes, Minnesota is a quirky state, filled with oddities. But I still think Wisconsin wins in the category of most quirky. On one trip there I came across a Fish hook museum and one of the displays was a very old one containing fish hooks that had been pulled out their victims by some doctor.

    • Jean,

      Isn’t it funny how those cravings can arise? There’s no question I’m going to have to indulge.

      I love the fish hook museum. It reminds me of the various barbed wire museums that you can find here in Texas. At least we can be grateful the hooks had been removed, rather than having the victims stuffed and mounted with the hooks intact. ;)

      Linda

  20. You beat me to it in making the connection between the Austin in Minnesota and the one in Texas, with its Keep Austin Weird bumper stickers and its Spamarama, which I confess I never attended. The last Spamarama seems to have taken place here in 2007.

    I’ll add a personal and ephemeral connection to your post: when we were in the Berkshires this past summer, we spent a couple of hours at the Norman Rockwell Museum. We’d tried going there five years earlier, but the place was so mobbed with tourists that day that we decided to try again another time. The museum, by the way, is in Stockbridge, which you may remember from a James Taylor song:

    Now the First of December was covered with snow,
    And so was the Turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston.
    Lord, the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frostin’
    With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go.

    And speaking of which, some people confuse Boston with Austin. Really.

    • Steve,

      You’re right. Spamarama ended its run in 2007. That was the year the Smithsonian showed up, too. Whether they knew they were recording the end of an era, I’m not sure. Someone asked me this weekend how a Spam festival could keep going for thirty years. The best explanation I can find is that people needed something to do once the Armadillo World Headquarters closed.

      I had no idea the Rockwell museum was in Stockbridge. Actually, when I hear Stockbridge, I don’t think about James Taylor. Instead, I remember Arlo Guthrie and the estimable Alice’s Restaurant.Who can forget Stockbridge’s Officer Obie? (I suppose a better question today is who’s even heard of Officer Obie!)

      Boston and Austin? Oh, my. Well, there have been plenty of people who’ve said to me, “You’re from Iowa? Oh, right. That state where they grow all the potatoes.”

      Linda

      • And let’s add Ohio to the mix. Iowa, Ohio, and Idaho all have three vowels chosen from a,i and o.

        In Stockbridge I’ve seen the place where Alice’s Restaurant used to be, and of course I remember the song.

        • Somehow this led me to think of “etaoin shrdlu”, and I finally learned the source of that mysterious phrase!

  21. It always surprises me when some sight, or smell brings along a rush of memories. I like to walk home after church (I drive to church with my wife, and then walk home. If it was downhill both ways, I would walk to church as well.)

    On the way home, there is someone who every now and then bakes chicken with the exact same spice that my Omma did. The flood of memories nearly knock me over – in a good way. I can’t say I have the same experience with Spam, but it was fun to hear of your experiences and memories. Thanks! Allen

    • Allen,

      For you, baked chicken. For Proust, a madeleine. I think all of us have those moments when the senses bring the past rushing into the present. I’ve always loved these lines from Proust’s famous passage:

      “When from the distant past nothing remains, after the beings have died, after the things are destroyed and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, yet more vital, more insubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of everything else; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the immense architecture of memory.”

      Who knows? There may even be in the world some one person for whom Spam evokes such poetry! I’d not bet much money on it, but it certainly could be!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post – and thanks for bringing Proust to mind with your memories!

      Linda

  22. Linda, can you believe–as a born and bred Minnesotan–that I have never even tried Spam?! I have though, of course, had my share of Jolly Green Giant fare, as well as a good store of Paul Bunyan memories.

    This was such a fun post for me to read. I had a friend in college who came from Austin, and he was proud of his town’s claim to fame. The idea of a Spam Museum confounded me perhaps as much as it would out-of-staters, but I appreciated his dedication to where he came from. For those of us from small towns, its all too easy to grow up and experience bigger places and particular attitudes, and then look back on our eccentric roots with a degree of shame. Not this guy. Probably one of the reasons I respected him and his love of said meat so much. Probably another reason I should peel open a can of the stuff (someday!) and give it a proper taste… you think? :)

    • Emily,

      My goodness – I was almost literally in your backyard on my trip. I did think about you when I was writing this, wondering if it would seem familiar to you. Obviously, the answer is yes.

      In a way, I’m not surprised you haven’t had Spam. I think most people my age have had their share, for good or for ill. Much younger people, farther removed from all the conditions that gave rise to the product, are less likely to have grown up with it.

      I went through my own period of Iowa-rejection, trying to deny my roots in such an unsophisticated place. Now, after a swing through some urban living, plenty of travel and a stint in academia, I’m busy reclaiming all that a younger me rejected. I suppose posts like this are the evidence.

      As for giving Spam a try – I think you might enjoy it. My personal recommendation is fried in a sandwich. Just don’t add any salt!

      Linda

  23. I totally enjoyed reading this. Our family couldn’t afford Spam unless it came in commodities (forerunner to food stamps), but I had it as an adult. I remember those canned hams though, and other things with the key. My mother would take that strip of metal off the key, cut it into short strips, roll them in strips from paper bags, and use them for hair rollers. I don’t think we ever actually had ‘real’ hair rollers! Your story also brought back great memories of our trips to MN (hubby is from there) and seeing those statues of Babe & Paul Bunyan.

    • LubbyGirl,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! By the time I came along my family was doing better and the terribly slim days of the depression and war were over, but Mom still had to stretch things, and she certainly could stretch a can of Spam.

      I’ve never heard of that way of rolling hair. Did you ever use strips of cloth? I had long pipe curls as a little girl, and I remember Mom cutting those strips to tie up the curls. How she did it I don’t know, but from the looks of my photos, it worked pretty well.

      How neat that you’ve seen the statues of Babe and Paul Bunyan. I didn’t know until recently that the statues in Bemidji aren’t the only ones in the state. I’m not sure how many there are, but I’ll bet they’re all handsome.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and reminiscing a bit. There are a lot of us around whose folks taught us the importance of “making do”!

      Linda

      • I was just telling hubby about this, this very minute, and he says I got my Paul Bunyans mixed up! :lol: He reminded me that we didn’t go to the one when we were in MN, but to the one here on the West Coast. Neither of us can remember if it’s in northern CA or southern OR, though. Oh well…the mind has succumbed to gravity just like the body. :lol:
        I never used rag rollers that I can recall, just those strips of tin rolled in paper. We used those things as barrettes too. All that “making do” from my past is part of why I started my blog, The REmissionary. (btw…I’m a Linda too)

        • Paul Bunyan on the West Coast? That’s intriguing – although, having spent a good bit of time in the forests out there, it’s clear that a lumberjack could make a living. I just hope he’s not cutting down any redwoods!

  24. Linda, I am also a Minnesota girl, and when I was in high school I worked one summer at the Green Giant canning factory in nearby Montgomery, MN for the sweet corn harvest. I have never eaten another can of creamed corn since then!!! I learned that the best produce was frozen. The medium quality was canned as kernels. But the creamed corn was made out of the stuff that had been sitting around the platform for a few days.

    What a noisy, stinky, sweaty job that was on the line. Yet, we farm kids were happy to be earning some money (instead of working for “free” at home.)

    My mom occasionally served Spam, and although she canned and froze her own garden vegetables, she did buy Green Giant canned food as well. Also used boxed cake mixes, jello, etc. I imagine her generation thought “boughten” food was a real time saver. I prefer to go back to true home made food instead of the convenience foods that still are so at hand.

    Loved reading your post today.

    • Rosemary,

      When I was visiting Minnesota, I heard some stories about working in the canneries. It sounded pretty good to me – better than detasseling corn. Even back in the day you could make some decent money in the fields – I seem to remember about $100 for two weeks’ work – but it was hot, rough work. I’m sure the canneries were, too. No one minded, though. As you say, it was better than working at home, and it wasn’t forever.

      I didn’t realize your Minnesota roots. We vacationed up at Leech Lake two or three times when I was a kid, and I’ve always enjoyed the state.

      My friends and I often talk about that 1950s food: the tuna hotdish, the molded jello salads, the first tv dinners in those aluminum trays that had to be cooked in the oven. I honestly think some of that food seemed marvelous because people just had experienced war, depression and so many food shortages. It was like magic. The phrase “the best thing since sliced bread” had a beginning, after all – and my grandmother and mother thought sliced bread in a plastic wrapper was wonderful.

      Now, the pendulum is swinging again – but through it all, Spam’s survived. The irony is that it has none of the chemicals and preservatives that make so much of today’s processed food so unpalatable. I have a feeling as long as pigs have shoulders, we’ll have Spam!

      Linda

  25. I enjoyed this post very much and am sure I must have consumed Spam at one time or another….I’ll need to ask Mom. While there are plenty of WWII soldiers in my history, I’ve no memory of commentary. Somewhat interesting that our two Rosies share a name..Mary Doyle Keefe and Geraldine Hoff Doyle.

    • Judy,

      I knew someone would notice the two Doyles. I was sure I wouldn’t have to wait for Arthur Conan to show up. It is a fun coincidence, one of those little details that adds interest to the story.

      What’s equally interesting is how much difference ten years can make in people’s memories and experience of Spam. Geography counts, too. WWII service members and families who experienced rationing or the lingering effects of the Depression appear to have more personal stories about the stuff. They may be positive or negative, but they’re certainly more vivid.

      And lest you think Spam is only a relic of the past, it’s being recommended by some forward-thinkers as the perfect food for the Zombie Apocalypse. ;)

      Linda

  26. Rosie the Riveter brings home the good memories of some wonderful movies about those gals helping the war effort, and, yes, the camaraderie that would have built up amongst themselves. I think if I’d lived during that time, there, I’d have become a riveter too — noisy but invigorating and there were still some men around that could have made it interesting too!

    Spam — now I’ve always loved it. Never cooked, but thin slices in a sandwich with a piece of crisp iceberg lettuce, some fresh slices of tomato, a bit of grain mustard and thin-sliced spanish onion and a light sprinkling of freshground black pepper. Yum! Nowadays, I avoid it due to my arthritis (pork products are not good for arhritics, apart from the salt content), but every now and then, I buy a small can and ration myself, as it’s still available in our supermarkets.

    Great photos too!

    • janina,

      I know there was some strong bonding that took place among the women in the factories. Mom had some stories to tell, although I didn’t hear many of them until the last decade of her life, and then I had to coax a bit. None of them were terribly risqué, but I’m sure she thought them unsuitable for a young girl – or even a young adult. One of the funniest involved four of them and one bottle of vodka on a Saturday night, while all the husbands were off pheasant hunting!

      Although I always had my sandwiches fried, yours does sound rather good. It’s clear I’m going to have to add a can to my next grocery shop. The urge is becoming overwhelming. I didn’t know about the connection between pork and arthritis – never heard of such a thing. That’s worth a bit more exploration. I don’t have much problem, but there’s enough evidence of it in my hands that I should pay attention.

      I’m glad you liked the photos. I truly was amazed at how interesting and well kept the little museum was. I wish now I’d taken more photos of the handwork. There was a full-sized quilt that was just amazing.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your memories!

      Linda

      • Bonding stories are always fascinating, the kinda thing one shares around the camp-fire too, especially after the loosening effects of a few drinks! Yes, I also found that those of her generation, who experienced war and its cruelties, never really wanted to talk about those times; they just wanted to experience life while they could. I had great trouble getting information out of my mother too!

        Arthritis and pork? A family member, in Germany, was all her life an apothecary, a chemist along organic/natural lines and who studied natural medicine too, and who had her own shopfront. I told her about my arthritis and how it has manifest. She gave me a list of foods to avoid, pork products being top of the list. I followed her instructions to remove those from my diet, and things improved 100%. You’d be surprised what else was on that list that most of us eat almost every day!

        You’re a very good photographer, Linda! :)

        • Experience of poverty scars as surely as war, too. As a child, I could feel mom’s anxiety and her desire to ensure a “good life” for me, but never really understood where it was rooted. I’ll say this – both my mom and dad get extra points for being generous but never obnoxiously so, especially with Christmas and birthdays. As an only child I always had plenty of gifts, but almost always they were of the “one big gift and some things to unwrap” variety.

          I took a look at some lists of foods to avoid/foods to consume re: arthritis. They really are very interesting. For the most part, only slight adjustments would be necessary, but one thing I found on multiple lists was coffee. Oh, my. Well, one thing’s for sure. I can give reducing caffeine a try and see what the effect is. Working with one variable at a time is the thing to do, of course, and that’s a pretty significant variable in my life!.

          Thanks for the compliment on the photos! I do have fun with it, and I enjoy combining images and words.

  27. Linda, what an interesting story. The illustrations are wonderful and I laughed out loud reading about the Spam museum. They should definitely have a cafe serving up Spam treats!

    My own relationship with Spam is a rocky one. We certainly didn’t have it at home – we definitely came from a line of food snobs!…anything in tins was banned as well as crisps (chips), fizzy drinks, or basically anything that had a whiff of the ‘common’ about it!! This of course gave us a complete fascination with all things packaged…though I have learnt to appreciate what my mum taught me about wholesome food. It was at school where it all went wrong for me in the Spam department. It was served deep fried in a thick stodgy batter – you would not believe the fat dripping out, it was pretty horrendous.

    Like you I had always assumed that it was made of some dubious meat parts so its interesting to see that it’s mostly pork shoulder. After all, it’s not so much different than other processed meat products – but we like to honour those differently. Actually this has got me thinking about Rillettes – yum – and I’m not horrified by the fat content of that!

    I love all the pictures in this post, really informative. Blogging is such a great medium for this mix of words and images.

    • Sarah,

      I’m reminded again of the importance of time and place in the development of food preferences – not to mention money and transportation. So much of the “healthy eating” movement today is an attempt to re-capture realities that were just part of life for my mother and grandmother: homemade bread, yard chickens, veggies and fruits in season. No winter grapes from Chile or cheese from Italy. In fact, that was one reason the traditional orange and apple in the Christmas stocking were so wonderful – those fruits were rarities in the mid-winter.

      And of course fashion has a good bit to do with it. When I think of suburban parties of the 1950s, and the food that was served there – well, it was a different world. Let’s just say that after years of rationing, fat and sugar were beloved commodities once they were easily available again!

      Despite the rumors, Spam truly isn’t one of those “mystery meats” so beloved of our school lunch programs. Basic Spam has only six ingredients: chopped pork shoulder meat, added ham meat, salt, water, modified potato starch as a binder, and sodium nitrite as a preservative. Not so terrifying!

      I’d never heard of Rillettes – I did a quick read and discovered the Anjou way of serving – a pyramidal shape topped by a pig’s tail! Oh, my!

      Linda

      • I’ve never had it like that! The one I get comes in a tub, I save it for special times, otherwise there’d be serious risk of a coronary ;) But the main ingredient is pork shoulder and belly, so not so different from spam…

        I bet it was amazing for people to taste all that lovely stuff after the war. We have letters written by my mum to her parents when she was living with a family in Paris just after the war, there is a lot of grateful thanks in there for the chocolate they sent her!

        Actually after your comment about the butternut in our seasonal veg box I got curious about where it came from and I found out that they are grown in the south of France.

        Re your tricky relationship with Brussels sprouts have you tried them chopped up small, fried with plenty of olive oil, garlic,salt and a little water and some red chillie (to taste), cook this down for a bit until they get soft then cook some pasta (I use penne but any will do I think) al dente and toss it all together, and grate some parmesan on top.Yum! See what I’m trying to do here?! ;)

        • It’s the old “add enough cheese and spices and anything will taste good” trick! But it does sound very good. Just because I’m such a risk-taker, I’ll give it a try and report back. I’ve got every ingredient but the Brussels sprouts, so it only requires will and determination!

  28. I think you need a new title, like “The Grand Madam of Research” or something catchier than that!

    Well, The Captain loves him an occasional batch of SPAM sliced thin, fried, with a side of macaroni and cheese and a can of petite pois! What I call a fast-food meal made at home! Probably still more nutritious and less fat than a Big Mac and fries!

    Rosie was a little before my time and way ahead of hers, although I learned about her from my dad and not from history class. I admired her for stepping up into the role of riveter, and she even inspired me to ask if I might unload the delivery truck at 5 a.m. at the back of the grocery store where I worked as a college freshman—a task previously only assigned to bag boys. They allowed me to do it once, but when I then asked to be allowed to bag groceries and haul the carts out for people (like Brookshire’s did back in the day), I was told no way. Girls belong behind the cash register! Go Rosie!!!!!

    • Wendy,

      Yes, ma’am! I do love me some poking around in the corners of history to see what I can see. This time, it was Rosie and her Spamwich.

      Do you know I’ve never had Spam with Mac and Cheese? That sounds wonderful. If I’m going to open up that can of Spam one more time, maybe I should have my sandwich and then serve the rest a la Captain!

      I’ve never thought about it, but times have changed. I’m just as likely to have a woman or girl sacking groceries now, and helping people out to their cars. It seems like the guys still get the task of rounding up the carts in the parking lot, though – maybe a matter of safety as much as strength.

      Now that we have pink screwdrivers, pastel flowered vise-grips and pink pistols, maybe we should get Rosie a pink rivet gun!

      Linda

  29. I have a metal wall hanging of that “We Can Do It!” that I put up the day we got into Jersey. I will now call her Geraldine instead of Rosie. She inspires individuals, not just countries!

    • Claudia,

      I love it! I don’t know how it is with you, but I take my inspiration where I can find it, and that image is pretty inspiring. She might serve a second purpose, too. I liked Flip Wilson’s “Geraldine” well enough, but I’d be glad for someone else to fill up the “Geraldine” slot in my life!

      Linda

  30. Spam, spam, glorious spam. How come I only know of it as English?

    No doubt, you will be sadly disappointed, nay hurt, if I tell you that I dislike it, although my husband occasionally succeeds in making me buy a tin. It’s just too salty for me and its indefinable content makes me very suspicious.

    Say, on another track altogether: you might be the person to find out for me what kind of meat was in those tins which came in Care packages after WWII and helped keep me alive. All I know is that for years I thought it was horse meat. It was a glorious dark brown meat in a very tasty jelly, and on the tine it had ha horse rearing up. The name on the tin: Mustang! Nobody has ever been able to tell me what it was, probably a kind of corned beef, although it looked nothing like it.

    Thank you also for your very informative comment about copyright. I doubt that I’d be willing to pay for the right to publish anyone’s poem, so I’d better play safe and stick with people who won’t come after me with lawyers.

    • friko,

      I’ve never heard of Mustang tinned meat, but I’ve put out the word to some friends and family who are of an age to remember – if they remember anything, of course! I couldn’t find a thing online myself.

      It’s funny – Spam eaters seem divided pretty much like this: 30% like it and eat it, 30% wouldn’t touch it for the world, and the rest remember it fondly and will succumb to its charms now and then “just for old time’s sake”. I had a sandwich myself for lunch today – all this chatter finally pushed me over the edge. It was quite good!

      I did learn something important – it comes packaged as single slices now. That makes it even more worthwhile as hurricane survival food – no need to worry over leftovers with no refrigeration.

      I laughed when I re-read my comment at your place. I have no idea what those two words dangling at the end were meant to lead to. Sometimes my brain just stops working. But truly – I don’t think your poetry page, as constructed, is going to fall afoul of anyone. The sites that have had trouble are the ones that not only are posting entire works, like all of “The Four Quartets”, but which are receiving huge traffic, or which are commercial ventures.

      If the poet’s still alive, of course, it’s possible to just ask permission, which I sometimes do. A poet told me once that she doesn’t fuss at all when a single poem of hers is posted. She sees it very much as “fair use”. As she put it, taking one poem as representative of her work is rather like taking a paragraph from a novel. Interesting perspective.

      I say carry on!

      Linda

  31. I can’t remember that last time I opened a can of spam, but it must have been in the early 50’s. I don’t remember missing it.

    I’ve always loved “Rosie the Riveter”, largely in admiration for the women who did so much for our cause back then. I wonder if Norman would now be comfortable with a “Rosie the Infantry soldier”.

    • montucky,

      If you haven’t missed it in 50-60 years, I think you’re safe. Any future Spam shortage won’t affect you one bit!

      There have been a good number of cartoons about women in front-line combat that have made use of Rosie’s image. Here’s one of them. It’s hard to say what Rockwell would think. My sense is that he wouldn’t be so terribly approving, but that might just be me, projecting my opinion onto him.

      In any case, I suspect his Rosie may get a little extra attention for a while – and well deserved.

      Linda

  32. I loved learning about Rosie (and her Spam sandwich!) and Micarda and Formica in your post, Linda. I’ll have to ask my mom if we ate those DAK canned hams because they were inexpensive or if someone had given them to us. I still see them on store shelves every now and again. Have never seen canned bacon, though.

    Spam musubi is one of my favorite ways to eat Spam :-) I’m glad to read about the relative innocence of Spam as compared to other processed foods. I think I wanted to maintain ignorance about what actually went into it. To help counter the guilt and saltiness, I do get the low sodium version.

    • nikkipolani,

      I must say – that musubi looks pretty tasty! I didn’t have a clue what musubi might be, but now I know, and I’d be willing to give it a try. When I broke down and bought my Spam, I was surprised and pleased to see low sodium, low sodium-and-fat and turkey versions. And I was pleased to see single-serving packages, too. It seems the combination of decent ingredients and a willingness to adapt has kept this particular icon in favor.

      Isn’t that interesting about the Formica and Micarta? There were so many wonderful inventions that appeared after WWII – many of them based in technologies developed over those years. I’m sure you’re entirely too young to remember the days of having to straighten the seams in silk stockings. The introduction of no-seam nylon stockings was such a joy! Polyester? Well, not so much. But we take the bad with the good!

      Linda

  33. I love this post! My favorite line is “‘Spiced pork artifacts’ may be one of the most terrifying phrases in the English language.” I really did laugh out loud when I read it. I grew up eating spam pretty regularly. In fact, one of the comfort foods of my childhood was called Bean Bake (I’ll share it at the end of my comment – I know that everyone will want to try it. Ha!). And Mike & I still eat Spam occasionally – well actually we’ve moved on to Turkey Spam, which has got to be healthier, right?

    Here’s the recipe – provided to me by my dad after my mother died:

    2 cans pork ‘n beans
    1 can spam
    1 box Jiffy cornbread mix
    1 cu. catsup (ketchup)
    1 tbsp mustard (prepared)
    1 tsp onion powder

    This is from memory- no recipe could be found, but your Mom didn’t use one anyway, after a while.
    Slice off two slices of the Spam to be used for topping, then cube the rest and mix with the beans, mustard & ketchup and pour into baking dish. Prepare the cornbread mix according to directions, adding the onion powder. Spoon this on top of the bean mix, garnish with the two slices of meat and bake until the cornbread is golden brown. 375 degrees sounds good unless you can think of a temp. that sounds better.

    • The Bug,

      Clearly, you and I have the same sense of humor. That line about “spiced pork artifacts” was my favorite in the whole piece. It suggests every sort of curiosity, like finding hieroglyphs of Spam cans on the walls of King Tut’s tomb.

      When I stopped by the grocery store to pick up the Spam that suddenly had seemed the most important thing in the world, I discovered two things. One was that wonderful single-serve package. The other was that Spam is tucked in with other foods from my childhood and youth that I’d completely forgotten: Vienna Sausage, Mary Kitchen canned hash, Underwood Deviled Ham. My gosh! All of that stuff came home with us. Never the beef stews, though. There was a small rebellion the one time I remember Dinty Moore showing up. But the hash was pretty good, especially fried up crisp (“crispy”, as our home ec teachers insisted!) and served with ketchup, that all-purpose midwestern condiment.

      I’ve never heard of the corn bread on top, but it seems like a good addition. Mom used less ketchup but added a little brown sugar and Worchestershire sauce. My aunt insisted on lots of diced onion. That bean bake was the palette, and they were the artists! It suddenly seems like a very good idea to have a Retro Dinner Party – complete with your Bean Bake and lime jello-pineapple-cottage cheese salad. I’ll let you know how it goes (or if I can get anyone else to buy in!)

      Linda

      • Ooh my mom had a lime jello salad to die for – with apples, cream cheese & walnuts. I’d come to that dinner!

        When I first met my husband we were both poor students & for lunch (almost every day) he ate a can of Vienna sausages with saltines. (Except, where I grew up they were vie-eenney wienies :) )

  34. I have memories of Spam & they are not fond…

    • Lindy Lee,

      Ah, we all have those memories. I was trying to think about which foods carry negative associations for me – apart from just not liking them. I’d have to say pride of place belongs to another Minnesota food – lutefisk. Anything that gets processed with lye doesn’t belong on the dinner table. The first time I met the stuff, I thought, “This has to be a joke.” It wasn’t. ;)

      Linda

  35. Heh, I adore your articles…

    I have Rosie front and center on my fridge, as a constant reminder. You can doooo it!

    And as for SPAM: I spent much of my upbringing in the Hawaiian Islands (we were always booted off our 3-mile-long Micronesian island for sanity sake) — where this canned meat has always been, and will continue to be, a staple. Everywhere! Homes, restaurants… You name it. :)

    • FeyGirl,

      I think for a lot of us “We Can Do It” is much more energizing and appealing than Nike’s “Just Do It”. That might be fine for garden-variety procrastination, but for real challenges? I’ll take Rosie every time!

      I didn’t realize you grew up in Hawaii. That no doubt helps to explain your love of the natural world. I’ve only been there once and then not for long, but my goodness – the three days I was in Kauai might as well have been in paradise! And it’s been so interesting to learn about the journey of Spam across the Pacific – helped by the US Navy, of course!

      Linda

  36. couldn’t help but think about the verse, “there is nothing new under the sun” as i read how your mother felt about the we can do it phrase. certainly don’t want to disagree with mama though:-) i think in whatever way we express ourselves; words, photos, art, we consciously or unconsciously produce something that could be compared to someone else’s work. every once in a while i eat a spam sandwich despite thinking it’s nasty most of the time:-) wonder if the spam bots will be drawn to this particular post.

    • sherri,

      Funny I’ve never thought about it until now – it may be the Rockwell poster was Mom’s fav simply because that Rosie looked most like she and her friends. I’ve still got one photo of some of them in a back yard, wearing their uniforms. They look like school girls, yet they were helping to hold the nation together. The “other” Rosie – the “We Can Do It” girl – looks more like Mom as I knew her in childhood. The consummate 50’s housewife with her hair done up for cleaning. ;)

      You’re right about our expressions. No one is completely original – there always are echoes, references, allusions, tips of the creative hat. Put out a box of quilt scraps and let a dozen women get busy. The raw materials are the same – but not a single quilt will look exactly like another.

      Now that I know there are Spam singles, I may have a sandwich now and then. Or sometimes. The one I had yesterday was great – but it has to be fried for me to be happy.

      I’d not thought about it, but when I went to look, I didn’t have a single spam comment about this post. Here’s a strange fact: the post I get the most spam comments on is one about the Three Fates – Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. I have no idea what that means, except perhaps that there are a lot of spammers working in Greece. ;)

      Linda

  37. Ahh Spam. My Aunt Gerrie swore by the stuff. My Mom, whom they nick named “Dahhhling” would not touch it. Being a proper Polish Princess, her canned meat of choice was corned beef.

    One thing I do wonder about. The blue and yellow colors that adorn Spam paraphenelia, is that a nod to the Swedish Flag?

    • Gardengrrl,

      OK, so I have to ask – did you ever have the Mary Kitchen canned hash? That was another biggie in our household. It came in corned beef and roast beef. We stayed with the corned beef, and it was good. Pirogi would have been better than both.

      I couldn’t find anything that indicated a Swedish influence at Hormel. The family was German through and through, and held on to that heritage. Given the development of the company – and its unique character vis-a-vis the Chicago meat-packing industry which George Hormel left – I’d be willing to guess it was chosen for its ability to stand out on the shelves. On the other hand, the Minnesotans may have just woven their heritage into the fabric of the company.

      Linda

  38. My, that was a delightful and informative Spam post! :) I haven’t eaten Spam in many, many years but remember when fried crisp. What I found interesting was the traditional handcrafts featuring Spam, and that is something I haven’t seen before! I wonder how many iconic images we have stored in our memory banks? We see an iconic image and usually know what it means. A lot of history in the icons.

    As far as spam on the Internet, it is most annoying. I am glad for the spam filters for my websites yet it is still aggravating at how much spam is snared. I just cleaned out over 250 spam messages at one of my sites. So much time spent by those spammers spamming. Too bad the spam that the spammers spew isn’t bounced back ten-fold to them. Instant spam karma…hee…hee…

    Enjoy the writing and images, Linda.

    • Anna,

      It is interesting, isn’t it, how people will make art out of whatever surrounds them. When I was up in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, I was completely taken with the “quilt barns” I saw – regular barns which have been decorated with quilt patterns. Those are a wonderful combination of icons – barns and quilts. I wonder – have you seen those in Kansas?

      Every now and then, when I need five minutes of fun, I’ll look at my spam comments instead of just hitting the delete button. There are wonderful things there. Most of them sound like they’ve made a few passes through a really bad translation service. Instant spam karma’s gonna getcha, indeed!

      I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Linda

  39. Just off out – it’s 2245 here in the UK – to buy a tin of Spam. What would I do without you to dip me regularly into the deep vat of USA popular culture…… History books are now passé – we have your blog!

    • Anne,

      Ah, the power of the written word is a wondrous thing! I suppose, in the spirit of inclusive cross-culturalism, I ought to find myself some bangers and mash. I could even hum “Rule, Britannia” whilst I prepare them! ;)

      Of course you realize that my little remembrances here are fully as strange to the younger generation as they may be to you. I do rather enjoy the “living history” feel to some of this – although of course, the balance between “living” and “history” changes with every day that passes and I get closer to being “history”!

      Speaking of – I looked in on the North Kelvin Meadow page. I hope all is going well, or at least that you’re getting people’s attention. It looks as though it’s all “process” right now. I need to share some of this information again via Twitter and such – that’s where I have the most contact with folks in your part of the world.

      Perhaps we could “spam” those bureaucrats!

      Linda

  40. I never got the “hang” of eating Spam — my dad served in the Pacific — and he didn’t eat it when he returned home … I remember my parents eating a variety of what I called “unnamed meats” but Spam wasn’t one of them. I remember it being offered occasionally at summer camp and boarding school — but I can only think of tasting it once. I may have more than that — but I cannot swear to it. I enjoyed the traveling journey — thank you for always having unusual subjects, thoroughly and delightfully covered. :D becca

    • becca,

      One thing seems clear – fellows who lived on Spam in the military weren’t interested in having another serving or two when they got home – not even for old times’ sake!

      That’s ok – we still can enjoy the story, even if we don’t serve up the subject on our tables!

      Linda

  41. What an interesting post, Linda ! I loved the part about your Mother. Spam, I had never heard of apart from the unwanted ones that go into the basket icon every day. As for Minnesota, it brought back memories of a movie by the Cohen brothers, I think : “Fargo” ? And also memories of the stories told by a Mexican-American friend of mine who used to travel up North every Summer with his family to work in farms. I enjoyed going back through American history with you, thanks.

    • Isa,

      From what I can tell, Spam was far more common in the Pacific than in Europe during WWII, so it embedded itself more deeply into the culture there. I don’t know enough about the history of provisioning during the War to be able to say with certainty, but it makes sense that ships would be able to carry it more easily. Pure speculation – another explanation would be that the various food traditions in Europe made people less accepting of the stuff, at least after the hostilities ended.

      “Following the crops” was a tradition for many. In Iowa, where corn and soybeans were the primary crops, we never experienced much of that because mechanical harvesting prevailed. Where strawberries, grapes and other such fruits and tender vegetables were common, hand-picking was critical, and the willingness of people to carry out the task was invaluable.

      I’d heard of “Fargo”, but didn’t know a thing about the plot. When I looked it up, I just laughed. The payment for the kidnapping was to be a “1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera and half of the $80,000 ransom”. My mother’s car, which just departed stage left a few months ago, was a 1989 Olds Cutlass Ciera. It’s just one of those odd little coincidences I love so much!

      Linda

  42. Much to love here, not the least of which are my favorite Pythons in one of my favorite sketches of all time! I needed to see that today and chuckle to the max! When we visited Minneapolis for a memorial a couple of years ago, the hotel had postcards from the Spam Museum — it didn’t play out right, but I haven’t crossed it off the bucket list!

    I love all things Rockwell and his Rosie is lovely, but I must hold out for Geraldine who is (was) a local girl. Did you know she died two years ago, the day after Christmas in Lansing? She was a big deal here, once people put two and two together!

    And now, I’d best go clear out my Spam Filter!

    • jeanie,

      I did know Geraldine had died – many of the biographical entries I found were written on the occasion of her death – but I somehow missed the fact that Lansing was involved. One of the articles I read mentioned that her fame developed slowly – and then skyrocketed after she was “discovered”. The same thing that makes Rockwell’s image so powerful – the actual rivet gun,the halo, the copy of “Mein Kampf” also link it more firmly to a particular time and place. Geraldine’s “We Can Do It” image is more easily adaptable – and hence more familiar.

      It tickles me that the Minneapolis hotel had Spam Museum postcards. It makes sense, though – they’re apparently quite a big deal. Their theatre for presentations is large, and I’m sure they have a lot of school kids and tour groups show up.

      As for that spam filter – oh, my. It’s one of life’s greatest gifts. If I had to deal with the stuff it catches and quietly sets aside, I’d go crazy!

      Linda

      • I’ll have to see if I still have any of the spam postcards and if I do will send one along!

  43. “mycarta” should be “Micarta” and “Formica” got its name from “for mica”. But the two share a common history.
    I always wait for a time when I can come to your posts with enough time to *read* and digest all that you share with us. Thanks for another great history lesson … gosh you did an incredible amount of research for this one.
    – “Formica” got its name from “for mica”?
    – the two women who were the real “Rosie the Riveter”
    – Your Mom was one of those women
    – Spam and spam.
    ….I followed the links and read the articles…

    I thought my mother and I had spoken about everything I needed to know but Spam! somehow never entered our discussions – so I don’t know whether my family ate it during the war years before I was born…

    • dearrosie,

      This one’s been percolating for a while. I went to Minnesota and visited the Museum when I took Mom up to Iowa for burial – that was over a year ago. I processed the photos when I got back and tucked them in the files – and there they waited, until the time was right.

      I suspect the same will be true for you with the Camino. A year from now you’ll suddenly have an insight about an experience, or remember something that had seemed insignificant but wasn’t, and we’ll have the pleasure of another post. Sometimes it’s not so much research, as just letting all the pieces fall into place!

      Isn’t it amazing to think of all the things we didn’t talk to our parents about? So often I think, “I think I could ask Mom about that.” But I can’t, and I didn’t take seriously enough all the advice to talk!talk!talk! when she still was here. We did pretty well, though, as did you and your mom. In the end, it’s the relationships that count most.

      I thought the Formica/Micarta information was fascinating. It’s such fun when someone pops in with that kind of fun fact!

      Linda

  44. Interesting that your family had it’s own Rosie the Riveter in the form of you mother, Linda.

    I remember Spam, the meat product, very well from my childhood, as it was just as popular in Australia back then. I’ve been a Monty Python fan since I first saw them back in the 1960s. It was natural, then, that I was getting ready to place a link to that Spam video, before I’d scrolled down, and found out that you had already done so. I never imagined that the word “spam” used to mean junk mail, might have been inspired by the video, rather than the food product. Very interesting, then.

    And by the way, if Monty Python’s Spam is not enough fun for you, try looking up Rat Tart!

    • Andrew,

      Oh dear, oh me! I found the Rat Tart skit on YouTube with no problem, and couldn’t seem to look away! It’s terrible and funny all at once – like so much of Monty Python.

      Like you, I’d assumed at first that email spam got its name from the product. Then, I found the Python skit and, as they say, all was made clear. It’s been so interesting to me to find that Spam-the-product has been so popular around the world, too. Of course, tinned foods with a long shelf life travel rather well!

      Yes, Mom was proud of her role in the war effort, and proud of her ability to learn a skill and not only perform well but outwork most of those around her. She and her partner consistently were at the top of the heap when it came to meeting and exceeding quotas. She loved to talk about it – and we loved to listen.

      Linda


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