THE GREAT DEBATE

The Baltimore Sun

Recently, I watched "Spam," the Monty Python sketch, for about the 100th time. The segment shows Mr. and Mrs. Bun arguing and attempting to order breakfast while a group of burly-voiced Vikings chant in unison: "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam ... "

Much to my disappointment, watching the skit reminded me that Hormel's infamous "meat in a can" is treated more like a punch line rather than an actual food product.

But people still eat Spam. And if you're like me, you love eating it.

I was about 9 years old when I first discovered Spam. I had embarked on a quest through our pantry for a can of Chef Boyardee ravioli when I discovered a mysterious blue can in the corner. The light caused what I thought was a forgotten treasure to glow majestically. I examined the can to find that this "Spam" was actually meat in a can.

"Jeepers!" I said to myself. "What will they think of next?"

At that point, I abandoned my search for ravioli, grabbed a spoon and enjoyed my first can of Spam.

I loved the strong aroma, the rich flavor and the smooth and creamy texture. That moment for me was a lot like the one most kids experience eating their first ice-cream sundaes, except that my food wasn't a sundae. It happened to be cold processed ham and pork.

My Spam-eating habits continued until high school, where I learned that Spam wasn't the most healthful source of protein.

But in my dorm room, Spam, ramen noodles and Sun Chips were my main sources of nourishment. Spam was one of the best ways to keep you belly and your wallet full.

I still indulge in Spam from time to time. I still get that soothing nostalgic feeling every time I eat it. It may seem odd that something cold like Spam can actually warm the heart of someone in need of a filling meal, but for me Spam does just that.

Perhaps what I'm feeling is my arteries clogging, but nothing can be more satisfying than downing a can of Spam on an empty stomach.

I am by no means an advocate of all processed food. I am merely willing to overlook the mysterious production process to highlight the positive qualities of Spam.

Spam is many things. Some call it gross, some call it disgusting. I have even heard one individual call it "the most vile food product known to man." But for me, Spam is a beautiful thing. It is a feat of culinary ingenuity that should be enjoyed in moderation by all.

Spam is perfection. It's delicious the way it is - uncooked, eaten directly from the can. I don't think of it as eating mystery meat. I prefer to think that I'm "dining on Spam tartare."

Spam is versatility. It's easily paired with many different ingredients to create quick, delicious snacks and meals in minutes.

Spam is convenience. Why spend an hour at a meat counter, waiting for your number to be called? Spam takes only minutes to purchase. In fact, I enjoy parading through the meat department with a can of Spam in hand to remind all of the patient shoppers that I will have made a delectable meal, consumed it and taken a nap by the time they get their fresh meat home and in the fridge.

Spam is dependability. I love knowing that the four-month-old can sitting in the recesses of my pantry will be just as good as the day I bought it. Those unfortunate souls who waste hours of their lives standing in a meat line have only days to eat their meat.

Spam is simplicity. Nothing demonstrates this more than when hunger pains wake me midslumber. When this happens, I crave a nice, homemade Spam burger. When you roll out of bed and stumble into your kitchen at 2 a.m., you shouldn't have to defrost ground beef. Just slap a slab of Spam in the middle of a hamburger bun, zap it in the microwave for a minute and top with desired fixings.

I was excited when I heard about Spam's 70th anniversary. Even though most of my friends and family turned their noses when I asked them to celebrate with me, I didn't really mind. I just grabbed a spoon, found a comfortable chair and popped open a fresh can.

brad.schleicher@baltsun.com

Spam at the fair

Spam cooking contests are a tradition at state fairs around the country. The Maryland State Fair, which starts this weekend, will hold its division of the Great American Spam Championship contest at 10 a.m. Sept. 1.

There are two categories: one for those 18 and older, and one for "kid chefs" 7 to 17. Each entry must use at least one 12-ounce can of Spam in any variety. Finished dishes must be prepared and brought to the fair before judging time with the typed recipe.

A complete set of rules can be obtained at marylandstatefair.com or by calling 410-252-0200.

Spamsgiving Day Delight

Serves 6 to 8

1 cup prepared instant mashed potatoes or refrigerated mashed potatoes

1 (12-ounce) can Spam Oven Roasted Turkey

1 (10.1-ounce) can refrigerated crescent rolls

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 (8-ounce) can jellied cranberry sauce

1/2 teaspoon sage

3/4 cup french-fried onions

green olives for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare potatoes as package directs. Cut Spam into 1/2 -inch-thick slices. On a nonstick cookie sheet, roll out crescent rolls into one large rectangle, making sure to pinch the perforations together.

Spread mashed potatoes on top of the dough, making sure to leave a 2-inch border. Layer the Spam, overlapping each slice by about 1/2 inch. Top Spam slices with an even layer of cream cheese. Slice cranberry sauce into 1/4 -inch discs and place on top of cream cheese. Sprinkle sage and fried onions on top of the cranberry layer.

Carefully fold dough over the filling and crimp edges to seal. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. If desired, garnish with green olives.

This recipe, submitted by Faith Farrell of Minneapolis at the Minnesota State Fair, won the 2006 grand prize at the Great American Spam Championship.

Per serving (based on 8 servings): 355 calories, 12 grams protein, 22 grams fat, 8 grams saturated fat, 29 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 42 milligrams cholesterol, 743 milligrams sodium

Spam Burger

Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil

6 sliced medium button mushrooms

2 diced red onions

6 teaspoons ground black pepper

1 can (12 ounces) Spam luncheon meat, sliced lengthwise into 6 patties

6 slices American cheese

1/4 cup mayonnaise

6 regular hamburger rolls

6 lettuce leaves

1 large tomato, cut into 6 slices

Place 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet, swirling the oil until the skillet is evenly coated. Place the skillet over a stove-top burner on high heat. Distribute the mushrooms and onions evenly in the skillet. Stir occasionally for about 2 to 3 minutes.

While the mushrooms and onions cook, spread 1/2 teaspoon of pepper on both sides of each Spam patty. When the mushrooms and onions finish cooking, put them onto a plate and set aside.

Return the skillet to the burner. Keeping the burner on high heat, lay each Spam patty flat in the skillet and let cook for 4 minutes. Flip each patty. Top each with a slice of American cheese and cook for another 4 minutes.

While the Spam cooks, spread a teaspoon of mayonnaise on both sides of each hamburger roll and top with desired mushrooms, onions, lettuce and tomato. After the Spam has finished cooking, remove each patty from the skillet and place on a separate hamburger bun.

Per serving: 515 calories, 18 grams protein, 35 grams fat, 12 grams saturated fat, 32 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 62 milligrams cholesterol, 1,508 milligrams sodium

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