A food fight with Spam Cook-off: The cooks' battlefield: Maryland State Fair. Their weapons: recipes loaded with the pork product.

September 01, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Long before the huge crowds arrived at the Maryland State Fair yesterday morning, a band of hardy gourmands and amateur chefs toted their casserole dishes and rolls of aluminum foil into Timonium as if they were the very weapons of war.

Indeed, it was war -- a food fight of the first order -- the Spam Cooking Contest.

Among the 20 entries were Green Eggs and Spam, Rootin'-Tootin' Spam Loaf, Rack O' Spam on a Bed of Pringle's, Italian Spam Pie, Spam Breakfast Burritos, Spam and Apple Strudel and Yosemite Spam Frittata.

The winner turned out to be Donna Johnson of Hampstead, who cooked her Black Bean and Spam Soup. The taste was superb but the presentation took her over the top -- she served the soup in rye bread bowls and placed freshly cut flowers in the middle of her tray.

"A very nice touch," said Mary White, a master canner and contest judge from Jarrettsville.

Yes, agreed fellow judge Anita Wehrman, a registered dietitian: "Very complete. It even appears the recipe was proofread."

Johnson won $100 and the opportunity to compete in the national Spam cook-off this month in Austin, Minn., the home of Spam. The top Spammer in the nation will win a $2,500 shopping spree at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.

Esther Dietz of Kingsville won the second-place prize of $50 for her Shredded Spam Fruit and Vegetable Salad, and Anna Amrheim of Baltimore took the third-place prize of $25 for her Spam Surprise.

The top winner's husband, Don Johnson, a banker, failed to place with his Green Eggs and Spam but offered it as a tribute to one of his favorite literary creators, Dr. Seuss. "I colored the eggs with spinach, which is healthy, but my yolks ran."

Few spectators were present when the Spam-a-thon began. But by the time the last morsels were tasted and the top dishes were chosen, 50 to 75 people waited with bated breath for the announcement of the winners.

'Lots of enemies'

The seriousness with which the contestants view the Spam contest wasn't lost on judge White.

"You look at all the people when the contest starts," she said. "And you know you'll have one good friend at the end and lots of enemies."

One contestant who did not place complained that the third judge, a newspaper reporter, was unqualified to sit in judgment of such an important event.

When asked by the reporter for a copy of her recipe or a comment, she glared, snatched up her dish and melted into the crowd at the home arts building.

Not once did she give the journalist an opportunity to list his impressive culinary credentials: He has been around the world several times and dined on more than a few occasions at Angel's Number One Chop Chop and Car Wash, last seen outside Bong Son, a dusty little village in South Vietnam.

The Spam craze

A container of Spam -- that ubiquitous blue and yellow can of ham and other pork products that has been around for 59 years -- is consumed every 4 seconds in the United States, Hormel Foods Corp. claims. It comes in Spam Lite, Smoked Spam and Low Sodium Spam.

There are Spam baseball hats and watches. People engage in Spam carving contests nationwide -- Rodin's "The Thinker" and an Army tank are two recent Spam sculptures.

"I think it's a slice of America," Nancy Longo, owner and chef at Pierpoint in Fells Point, said in a telephone interview. "It's the poor man's pate. You can play with Spam."

Chef Joseph Belvedere, assistant director of the Culinary Arts Institute in Baltimore, is not one to turn up his nose at a Spam meal.

"I like it on a sandwich," he said in an interview.

"You fry it real slow, put some lettuce and tomato, some mustard, rye bread."

A cultural symbol

While some shudder at the thought of eating Spam, especially at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, many have kind words for the pink meat turned cultural symbol.

"It's gotten a bum rap," said Milton Daniels, a Northwood resident who watched the Spam contest.

"When I was in the Pacific in World War II, we got these packages that had toilet paper, tropical chocolate and olive drab cans of Spam in them," he said.

"It was quite good stuff then, and I enjoy it now."

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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