Fair's Spam chefs try to improve upon perfection

2009-08-29T23:35:00Z Fair's Spam chefs try to improve upon perfectionBY JOE DUGGAN / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
August 29, 2009 11:35 pm  • 

The banner inside the Expo Building at the Nebraska State Fair called Spam the pinnacle of culinary achievement.

While practically nobody takes such a boast seriously, offer a little Spam scratch and people will try to put truth in the advertising.

Hormel, the maker of Spam, ponied up $150 for the winner of the adult division. Even better, the top recipe automatically gets entered into the national contest, which awards a trip to the Waikiki Spam Jam Festival.

So 43 Nebraska Spam chefs peeled back the familiar blue and yellow cans Saturday morning and transformed the pink, processed, precooked pork shoulder product into, well, something culinary.

This was way beyond sliced and fried, served on toast with strawberry jam. On the banquet tables behind the judges was a Spam spread to behold.

There were cheesy Spam potatoes, Spam stuffed tomatoes, star-shaped Spam on pizza, Spamberry meatballs, Spam pot pies and a Husker tailgate Spam stew.

The judges tasted each creation and carefully recorded the scores. After taste, the most important criteria was "ease of preparation."

"You're limited to 10 ingredients," said Becki Barnes of Lincoln, who revealed that shredded carrots, zucchini and Dijon mustard went into her Spicy Spammy Patties.

Contest organizers set up about 75 folding chairs in the gallery, and by early afternoon most were occupied. Among them were Kaylee Hoover and Victoria Talcott, 13-year-olds from Bennet. Last year Victoria won the junior division with a Spam meatball, while Kaylee's Spam nugget took third.

Their friendship survived, further evidence of the power of the Spam sisterhood.

They waited as judges dutifully downed bite after bite with the occasional swig of bottled water to cut the sodium.

Off to the side of the stage, Hormel sales representative Rick Martinson sliced Spam and heated it in electric skillets. Lured by the funky aroma, a parade of fairgoers pushed pretzels into pink, gelatinous cubes and sampled pure naked Spam.

As Martinson worked, he offered a variety of trivia, such as the fact that a can of Spam gets consumed every three seconds in America. And the entire North American supply is produced at just two Hormel plants - in Austin, Minn., and Fremont, Neb.

Saturday's contest drew an unusually high number of entries, said Pat Clausen of Valley, who has helped organize the event since 1992. She was born in the Great Depression, she said, sort of a code phrase for, "Of course I like Spam, you punk."

A traditionalist, for sure, but the best Spam creation she's sampled in 17 years: Spam sushi.

"To die for," she said.

Now that's an achievement.

Reach Joe Duggan at 473-7239 or jduggan@journalstar.com

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