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That Reminds Me – In praise of Spam

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DESPITE its being ridiculed in a Monty Python sketch (here’s a Lego version) which led to its adoption as a term for junk mail, I have always been inordinately fond of Spam. And I’m not alone.

According to the official website, 12.8 cans are sold every second, in 44 countries. There are Spam fan clubs, a Spam museum, Spam festivals and a musical group known as the Spamettes, who sing about their favourite food in parodies of popular songs.

Introduced to increase the use of pork shoulder, then an unpopular cut, Spam was invented in 1937 by the Hormel Foods Corporation in Austin, Minnesota. Ground pork and ham are mixed with salt, sugar, water, potato starch and sodium nitrite and the mixture is dispensed into cans. Lids are applied and the tins are cooked for three hours before being labelled.

Business boomed during World War II because of the difficulty in transporting fresh meat to front-line troops. By the end of the war, GIs had chomped their way through 68,000 tons of the stuff.

Spam had by then become popular in the UK thanks to meat rationing and the Lend-Lease Act, while it was also supplied to the Soviet Union. Nikita Khrushchev said that ‘without Spam we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army’.

Almost 30 per cent of American households came to rely on Spam, thanks to its affordability and long shelf life, but nowhere was it more popular than in Hawaii, which still has the highest per capita consumption of any state. McDonald’s and Burger King both serve it there, and an annual festival known as the ‘Waikiki Spam Jam’ is held on the island of Oahu. In 2017 Hawaii suffered a plague of Spam robberies, with organised crime syndicates said to be involved in hijacking cans by the million.

I can eat Spam straight from the tin but prefer it grilled or fried in a sandwich with HP sauce. I’m also partial to a Spam fritter, although I suspect the stuff sold under that description in Clitheroe chippies is a cheaper imitation. Recently our local Sainsbury’s started selling Spam in plastic packs, which saves you from lacerating yourself with the razor-sharp lid in that painful place between thumb and index finger.

For Christmas about 25 years ago, the missus bought me an assortment of Spam merchandise including a bespoke slicer and a T-shirt, both of which are still going strong.

Here’s a recipe of my own devising which you’ll never find in any poncy cookbook – pork chops with Spam and flageolets.

Ingredients: four nice thick free-range pork chops; half a tin of Spam, finely diced; one large onion, chopped; two cloves garlic, chopped; third of a pint orange juice; tin of flageolet beans; cup of bouillon made with Knorr chicken powder; one scotch bonnet, minced (optional, for chilli lovers only).

Method: In a little oil or dripping, fry the chops until brown on both sides but not fully cooked. Remove from pan. Fry onion and garlic then add the Spam. After a few minutes add the orange juice, bouillon, beans and chilli (if using). Return the chops to the pan and simmer until they are nicely done and the Spam has melted into the sauce. Serve with rice or mashed potatoes, and enjoy.

No, Nay, Never

ONE of the more depressing consequences of Burnley FC’s relegation from the Premier League at the weekend is that next season in the Championship they will twice have to face their arch-rivals and Lancashire neighbours Blackburn Rovers.

Ever since they were both among the 12 founder members of the Football League in 1888 (the others being Accrington, Aston Villa, Bolton, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers), there has been bad blood between the two clubs. Each accused the other of cheating by fielding too many Scottish players (the Scots were regarded as the best in the world at the time). There were violent clashes on the field, with an abundance of broken legs, and open warfare among supporters.

In the 20th century the rivalry simmered down, mainly because the two sides were playing in different divisions, but the advent of widespread football hooliganism in the 1970s, with organised gangs, greatly upped the ante.

In 1976, to the delight of Rovers fans, Burnley began a long decline through the League, almost dropping out in 1987 when they were saved by beating Leyton Orient in their final match of the season.

Blackburn fans in the 1990s began referring to Burnley supporters as ‘Dingles’, after the Emmerdale soap opera character Zak Dingle, who wore a Clarets scarf. The actor who plays him, Steve Halliwell, is a Burnley fan.

The response from Turf Moor was to refer to the enemy as ‘Bastard Rovers’ or simply ‘Bastards’. The Burnley anthem, No, Nay, Never, is sung to the tune of The Wild Rover and goes: ‘And it’s no nay never, no nay never no more, will I play Blackburn Rovers, no never, no more.’ Here’s a clip from Turf Moor 

and here the choir are in fine voice at Wembley in the 2009 Championship playoff final when they beat Sheffield United 1-0 to return to the Premier League.

In 1991, Blackburn supporters had hired a light plane to fly over Turf Moor trailing the message: ‘Staying down 4 ever, luv Rovers, ha, ha, ha.’ This rankled with Clarets fans for more than two decades and in 2012, after Rovers were relegated, they responded with a plane of their own over Ewood Park pulling a banner reading ‘In Venky’s we trust’, referring to Blackburn’s Indian owners.

I remember one of the first FA Cup matches apart from the final to be televised live by the BBC. I believe it was a fifth-round tie between Blackburn and Southampton in 1984. The Rovers fans took advantage of the national stage to proclaim not their love for the home team but their antipathy to the Clarets. Their first chant went: ‘We hate Burnley and we hate Burnley, we hate Burnley and we hate Burnley, we hate Burnley and we hate Burnley – we are the Burnley haters.’

Funniest moment of all was when a young fan commandeered one of the pitch microphones and sang, to the tune of The Stars and Stripes Forever: ‘Cabin End, Cabin End, Cabin End. Cabin End, Cabin End, Cabin E-end.’ This being a reference to a grotty pub in the Knuzden area of Blackburn, thankfully no longer with us.

Ever since, in my mind at least, Blackburn Rovers have been known as Cabin End. At least it’s more polite than Bastards.

Last year the enmity between Burnley and Blackburn was exhaustively chronicled by Michael Hodkinson in a book comprising almost 500 pages. You’ll never guess the title. 

Old Jokes’ Home

THERE’S a restaurant in Alaska which boasts: ‘We serve any food you wish for from around the world.’ Man goes in and asks for tiger tongue on toast. Two minutes later the chef comes out of the kitchen and says: ‘Sorry, there’s no bread.’

A PS from PG

As for Gussie Fink-Nottle, many an experienced undertaker would have been deceived by his appearance and started embalming on sight.

PG Wodehouse: Right Ho, Jeeves

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to alanj126@yahoo.co.uk

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