Spam (and scalloped potatoes)

Comfort Food

It’s really stupid, but I particularly like Spam.  Yes, Spam –the luncheon meat – spiced ham. I was raised on it.  And then when we moved to Hawaii, we discovered it was like the state food.  I think their Spam consumption rivals their pineapple consumption.   Hawaiians eat Spam by the truckload.  You can get a Spam breakfast sandwich at the McDonald’s.  There is Spam sushi.  I am not making this up.

I like it fried with eggs.  I like it right out of the can at room temperature.  An old friend of my mother’s used to grind it up and make a ham salad sort of thing with it.  That was good too.

But I particularly like my Spam with scalloped potatoes.  That’s how my mom served it.  But she used Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup to make the potatoes.  Later, she started buying the boxed kind.

When I was 15 or so, I went on a tear to learn how to cook things from scratch.  I was given the Betty Crocker Cookbook.  I still have it.  I still use it.  Their scalloped potato recipe is to die for.  Really.  Well, it is with some modifications.  As I learned to cook, I also learned that most recipes geared toward the general populace are lacking in spice and pizazz.  I am very fond of savory foods. And pizazz.

Now back in the day, scalloped potatoes did not involve cheese.  Frankly, I think we’ve gotten a little bit carried away with cheese.  It doesn’t really need to be in and on everything.  It won’t surprise me if they discover the obesity problem in this country is due to some metabolic action of cheese.

My scalloped potatoes begin with a simple roux of flour and butter.  To that I add whole milk, celery seed, salt, and white pepper. Lots and lots of white pepper.  A ton of it.  I cook that concoction, adding milk until I have the right amount at the right thickness. 

I layer sliced potatoes in a 9 x 13 baking pan, followed by a layer of diced celery and then a layer of diced onion.  Heavy on the onion.  Heavy on the celery.  I pour the bechamel sauce over it to fill the nooks and crannies.  Then I begin a second layer.  Rinse and Repeat.  Ending with a third layer.

To the very top, I layer sliced Spam to cover the surface.  It bakes for an hour and a half or longer – depending on how thick I sliced the potatoes. 

The result is a savory mixture of simple goodness.  Flour, milk, salt, white pepper, celery seed, onion, celery, and spam combine to create something greater than the sum of their parts.

It’s my comfort food for cold winter days.  If they’re forecasting snow, you can bet I’m making either scalloped potatoes or potato soup.  My potato soup recipe is basically soupy scalloped potatoes with the potatoes and celery cut into chunks.  No Spam. 

But, yes, I love Spam.  I bake those scalloped potatoes until bubbly and the Spam has browned and begun to curl at the edges.  I have received marriage proposals due to my Spam and scalloped potatoes.  They are that good.  Me and Betty Crocker do okay together.

I have two cans of Spam in the pantry right now.  It’s far too hot to make scalloped potatoes now. But you can bet on the first rainy cool autumn day I’ll be in the kitchen slicing and dicing.  I guarantee it.

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