The Key to Red Meat

By Jo Stougaard

I love SPAM.

There… I said it. The salty, mystery meat has been an absolute favorite my entire life.

With my big sister Janet, MyLastBite.comFrom 1964 to 1972 I lived in Okinawa, Japan during the Vietnam War, and our family struggled through the usual war food rationing. We rarely had fresh meat unless we were visiting our Obachan (grandma) in her village. She slaughtered pigs in the same area as she bathed us, which was out back behind her kitchen. Obviously this should have made me uncomfortable eating pork, but it didn’t.

Back at our home near the Navy base, my older sister Janet did a lot of the evening cooking since both our parents worked nights. I used to jump for joy when she would pop off the key from a can of “red meat” (as I called it). I would wait impatiently as she would slowly wind the sharp metal around and around… as gelatinous SPAM juices would squeeze over the top and onto her little fingers.

Sugar cane in the backyard, MyLastBite.comJanet usually fried up thin slices and served them with white sticky rice. Our house was next to a beautiful sugar cane field, and dad had built a little picnic table and chair near the edge of our property. I remember being so happy with my bowl of “red meat” and rice, listening to the workers chopping the cane in the distance. Sometimes, before it got too dark, Janet and I would jump the small concrete fence and steal a sugar cane or two. We would laugh as the workers chased us with their machetes! Out of breath we’d hide in our garden shed and hurriedly slice the ends of the cane, chewing and sucking out the sweetness.

Dinner time wasn’t always so perfect. I remember one evening when Janet wasn’t home and I was left alone. I tried to open a can of SPAM by myself but the little key BROKE. There was nothing to grab the little “starter” tin ribbon. I remember smashing the can against the edge of the kitchen counter, but only the juices escaped. My fingers were cut from the sharp edges. Thank goodness we had our friend Chef Boyardee in the cupboard that night.

Throughout my adulthood, when I felt a little blue or wanted to recall those days in Okinawa… I would simply go to the market and grab a can of SPAM. Not the “light” or low sodium version. It has to be original “classic” SPAM. The problem with this was that I would eat the entire can of SPAM in one or two sittings. I mean heck, it’s opened in front of me (no more darn key!). It’s crispy, greasy and just so tasty!

So along with my Okinawa memories of Moon Beach, Naha and Koza Village, I would also become flush with a sort of sodium overdose, burning eyes and severe bloating. As I got older, of course, I cut back on my beloved SPAM. Maybe eating it once a year, usually with my sister’s kids on a special occasion.

Spam Single!Then a few weeks ago, as I walked up the canned meat aisle…. I stopped dead in my tracks. There next to my beloved cans of classic SPAM were individual portions of my favorite mystery meat! Bless you Hormel for embracing moderation in your packaging! One easy open pouch of a “SPAM Single” has a 3 oz. slice (instead of the 12 oz. can). Just zip off the top and toss into a hot frying pan.

The single portion is just enough for me to savor my childhood… without bloating until my eyes burn.

So is the key to red meat the key to my happiness?

Whatever brings you joy, don’t you think?


My Recipe for Spam Baked Pasta (It’s a family favorite and the kids love it!)


1 can of Spam, sliced into thin pieces and fried

1 lb of pasta cooked (in unsalted water) and drained

5 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

3 cups milk

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 cups grated cheddar cheese

1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese

1 cup chopped red onion

1 teaspoon each hot red pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg, pepper



Slice spam and grill or fry until browned.

Bechamel Sauce
5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

In a medium saucepan, heat butter until melted.

Add flour and stir until smooth.

Over medium heat, cook until light golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat milk in separate pan until just about to boil.

Add milk to butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth and bring to a boil.

Cook 10 minutes and remove from heat.

Stir in Parmesan cheese.

Season with salt and nutmeg and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mayo Onion Sauce

1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 cup chopped red onion
1 teaspoon each hot red pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg, pepper
Mix all ingredients together and place in a pie plate or any baking dish.

Bake until golden brown on top, approximately 30 minutes.

Lower heat to 250

Mix Mayo Sauce with Bechamel sauce and add spam & pasta.

Bake in oven to warm through, then add cheese to top and broil top for a few minutes.

Okinawa – The Island of Pork

“The Key to Red Meat.” Written by Jo Stougaard © All Rights Reserved. No usage allowed including copying or sharing without written permission.



Filed under Family Stories, Food Stories (written by me)

12 responses to “The Key to Red Meat

  1. Janet

    Oh Jo…this article brought back a flood of memories!!

    I love how life does “360″s…my own children love “Spam…red meat”!
    We only have it while camping in our RV, usually at the desert. It is so funny how all the other children in the group congregate to our place to enjoy crispy, fried Spam strips!

    I do have a confession though, I have sworn off red meat for over 27 years…but Spam still brings joy to my own kids ( Jo’s niece and nephews)!

    Love you JO!!!

    (originally posted on August 26, 2008)

  2. JT

    I secretly love SPAM. My mom would mix it with mac n cheese and canned green beans when we were camping. Sodium overload! And my college roomate made the BEST teriyaki spam and rice. Dig it!

    (originally posted on August 28, 2008)

  3. Helen

    ok ok, I admit it. I like Spam. It too reminds me of my childhood. I have been known to sit there and just eat a can – as a snack. So frustrating when the key breaks though!

    (originally posted on August 29, 2008)

  4. Rindy R

    What a neat memory! Some of my favorite childhood memories involve Hormel chili in a can! Long live canned meat!!!!
    Thanks for sharing!

    (originally posted on August 29, 2008)

  5. pinstripebindi

    Amen! I love Spam and am completely unashamed to admit it. My mother would have died before having it in her house, so it isn’t connected to any childhood memories for me. But I love Spam musubi for lunch (bento is a hobby of mine) and teriyaki Spam and pineapple chunk skewers with sticky rice for dinner. But not more than a few times a year, because sweet lord it’s high in sodium.

    (originally posted on August 29, 2008)

  6. Chuck

    It’s funny no one really wants to admit that they love spam. But, it has been around for a very long time and many of us have grown up with spam. Great recipe!

    (originally posted on September 13, 2008)

  7. Another excellent piece, Jo. I love when you share these stories. And I love that we share a mutual infatuation with SPAM.

    Maybe it’s the fact that it gets a bad rap, or that it’s one of the few things Andrew Zimmern (who’s made a living off of eating the strangest of the strange) says it’s too much even for him. Whatever it is, it makes me appreciate it more. It’s one of those foods that I know I shouldn’t eat a lot of, but cannot help myself.

    I (heart) porky parts. Thanks for sharing the recipe, and for your great stories. You’ve been quite a busy bee this week.

  8. I am really enjoying all of your childhood anecdotes. My hormones must be messed up because I keep getting teary.

  9. Just “hearing” you say “I love spam” made me smile. As a child, my mom, nanny, or aunt would always make us spam, eggs & rice for breakfast. I haven’t eaten spam in years but I wouldn’t turn it down. Definitely reminds me of childhood!

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