Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Survival of the fritterest

It has been a week plagued with spam.

Not so much the electronic sort, promising easy-to-earn academic qualifications, unfeasibly large amounts of money, dubious medical enhancements or instant closure of your online banking facilities unless you immediately go to a Brazilian website that looks just like the Abbey National (even if you don’t bank with them) and fill in a form giving them your personal details, with ID number and passphrase thrown in for good measure.

Not the enticing offers of undying love from Natalia, who has “seen your profile on the internet” and has decided on a whim that she wants to spend the rest of her life with you. Sorry, Natalia, you’re much too late.

Not even the transparent chain letters that purport to be warning you of some devious – and completely fictional – credit card scam that has already been perpetrated on hundreds of people around the country and will soon be practised on you and your friends, if you don’t pass this message on.

No, electronic spam has become such a part of life that you hardly notice it any more. But this week has seen the comeback of the original Spam.

Spam with a capital “S”. Spam pink and jelly-swathed. Spam of school trip sandwiches, Spam savoury and toothsome, Spam chock-a-block with pork shoulder, ham, sugar, water, salt and sodium nitrite. Spam in a dark blue tin with a key that you turn to release the meaty goodness. Spam made in Denmark by a company called Tulip under licence from Hormel (who would prefer us to call it SPAM® Luncheon Meat but that would be too much like shouting).

It all started when we were watching the box one night last week. The name of the programme is forgotten and really quite immaterial: it was the adverts that grabbed us. Because there it was, large as life and twice as natural (or three times as natural if you’re comparing it with that sanitised bulldog who sells car insurance): an advert for ready-made Spam fritters.

We gazed into each other’s eyes and a frisson of reminiscence sparked across the room. “Do you remember...” we said as one.

Because in the early days of our courting, your humble columnist nearly blew it by inviting the young lady who was later to become Mrs D back to his seedy basement flat and cooking up a Spam fritter supper.

It did not go down well.

Those parts of the batter which weren’t glutinous were badly burned. The meaty content lost its appetising pink sheen and turned grey and viscid.

The accompanying frozen peas could, if memory serves, have doubled as ammunition and did nothing to cut through the nasty aftertaste of greasy cooking fat.

(Young bachelors, here’s a tip: if the way to your true love’s heart is through her stomach, then a nice piece of halibut works a whole lot better than Hormel’s finest.)

Anyway, one thing led to another, Miss W became Mrs D and took serious control of the cooking, and some years later there we were watching telly and wallowing in an unseemly bout of nostalgia.

A couple of days later Mrs D – who generally only buys pork products if they have a Union Flag on the packet along with a picture of their source material romping merrily in a sunlit meadow – announced brightly that it would be a cheap food shop this week.

And indeed it was. For what should appear in the kitchen cupboard on Monday but a tin of the self-same meaty kitchen staple that so nearly rent us asunder all those years ago?

We’re in good company. On the Japanese island of Okinawa, Spam is incorporated into stir-fries. In South Korea they sell it in gift packs and use it to make “Army Base Stew”. In America’s 50th state, childhood home of Barack Obama (who says this column doesn’t keep up with current affairs?) they enjoy it as “Hawaiian steak”.

The past has come back to bite us: or perhaps we are about to take a bite out of our past.

Because for one Bath family, Spam is back on the menu, and you can smell the frying all the way down the street.

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