The "Wall of Spam" at Minnesota's Spam Museum holds nearly 3,390 cans, almost enough for one person to have a can of Spam every day for 10 years.

Spam-in the globe

A trip to Minnesota is not complete
without a visit to the Spam Museum

» Spam bits

AUSTIN, Minn. » For the rest of the country, Spam is a novelty -- the (pork) butt of a famous Monty Python television comedy sketch. (Remember the Vikings in an English diner singing "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam. Spam, wonderful Spam"?)

Of course in Hawaii, Spam is a staple that no local cupboard is without. Without Spam, a musubi is just a rice ball; with Spam, eggs are a breakfast entree at McDonald's.

So a visit to Minnesota is just not complete without a trip -- a pilgrimage, really -- to the Spam Museum near the Hormel Foods Plant in Austin, one of two U.S. plants that produce Spam, at a rate of 44,000 cans an hour.

"That's about 17,000 pigs a day," according to the Spambassador who greeted me at the entrance to the Spam Museum.

It's ironic that Austin is surrounded by miles of soy bean, corn and wheat fields. The museum is not a place for vegetarians, unless they have a sense of humor.

An interactive exhibit tests how fast children can put a sponge Spam into a can.

Entering, you pass under the "Wall of Spam" made of nearly 3,390 cans of Spam, enough to eat a can a day for almost 10 years.

A 12-minute movie "Spam ... A Love Story" celebrates a worldwide love affair that has resulted in more than 6 billion cans sold.

A video of the 2001 opening ceremonies for the museum includes musical odes to Spam from the doo wop "Spamettes," and we meet people who really love Spam, such as Jim Murphy, a college student who has worn a Spam shirt every day for five years.

"Everyone thought that I was a dork," he confesses to the camera. Still, his devotion has brought him fame, some degree of acceptance and a place of honor in the Spam Museum.

The museum doesn't take itself too seriously. But it is filled with Spam facts and a history of Hormel and its products.

In interactive exhibits, children can put on white factory smocks and safety helmets and see how fast they can put a sponge Spam in a can. Compete against fellow tourists in the Spam Exam; consider the role Spam played in feeding troops during World War II through an interactive exhibit that includes a letter from President Eisenhower.

Hawaii is prominent. We're up there on the Global Spam map, because we purchase 6.7 million cans a year -- about 5.5 cans per person.

A reproduction of a Honolulu Star-Bulletin food section proclaims the state as "Numbah One" in the Spam world, the leader in Spam consumption for 30 years.

The museum is educational, too, with an exhibit on the role Spam played in feeding troops during World War II.

Hawaii chef Sam Choy is on video in the Chez Spam exhibit, one of several celebrity chefs showing how to prepare haute Spam cuisine. In Choy's case this means Spam musubi with his special ginger sauce.

The one thing you can't really get at the museum, except for "Spamples," is a Spam meal. For that you have to go across the street to Johnny's Restaurant.

The diner's Spamarama menu features deep-fried Spam sandwiches on grilled french bread with french fries or Spam eggs Benedict. I had the Western Spamburger -- grilled Spam with cheese, onions, barbecue sauce and bacon on grilled potato bread with potato salad. Not bad, but the barbecue sauce was a little too sweet.

It seems that two types of tourists visit the Spam Museum -- those who love Spam and those who have no idea why people love Spam.

"I love it," said Kevin Kestner of Austin, who eats it straight out of the can or in a sandwich fried with eggs and layered with mayonnaise on white bread. His father worked at the plant for 47 years.

"I don't," said his wife, Kim, who still enjoyed the museum.

The obligatory gift shop features an array of Spam products from underwear with glow-in-the dark images of Spam cans to Spam slippers, both $15, to an antenna ball for $1.

And there's a section of the museum devoted to "the funniest Spam moment in the history of television."

It's said that the Internet term for junk e-mail -- spam -- came from this Monty Python comedy sketch where Vikings singing the Spam song drown out the efforts of a couple to order a dish without Spam.

The sketch's Green Midget Cafe is reproduced, with its menu of egg and Spam; egg, bacon and Spam; egg, bacon, sausage and Spam; Spam, bacon, sausage and Spam; Spam, egg, Spam, Spam, bacon and Spam; Spam sausage Spam, Spam, bacon, Spam, tomato and Spam; and Lobster Thermidor a Crevette with mornay sauce, garnished with truffle pate, brandy -- and with a fried egg and Spam on top.

Watch a video of the two-minute sketch and leave the museum with the lyrics going through your head -- "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam ..."

The Spam Museum is located at the corner of
Main Street and SPAM Boulevard in Austin, Minn., about
90 minutes southeast of Minneapolis. Admission is free.
Call (800) LUV-SPAM


Spam bits

» Spam was first produced in 1937 as Hormel Spiced Ham. Kenneth Daigneau won a contest and $100 with his suggestion of the name Spam.

» A can of Spam is consumed in the United States every 3.1 seconds.

» Spam is sold in 41 countries and trademarked in more than 100 nations on six continents.

» After Hawaii, Alaska, Arkansas, Texas and Alabama are the states that consume the most Spam.

» The 6 billionth can of Spam was produced in July 2002. The 1 billion mark was reached in 1959, 2 billion in 1970 -- 3, 4 and 5 billion were reached in 1980, 1986 and 1994, respectively.

» Laid end to end, 6 billion cans of Spam would circle the globe 15 times.

» The Spam can was inducted into the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, in 1998.

Spam Cupcakes

2 cans Spam, grated
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2/3 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
3/4 cup milk
4 cups prepared mashed potatoes
Snipped fresh chives, for garnish
» Glaze:
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon mustard
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray muffin tin with cooking oil spray.

Combine Spam, eggs, oatmeal and milk in large bowl; mix well.

Fill each muffin cup 2/3 full with Spam mixture. Lightly press with back of spoon.

Whisk glaze ingredients together and spoon over Spam mixture in muffin cups. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until set.

Remove cupcakes from oven. Place oven rack 2 to 3 inches from heat source and heat broiler.

Top each cupcake with mashed potatoes. Return to oven and broil 2 to 3 minutes, until potatoes are lightly browned. Garnish with chives. Makes 12 cupcakes.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per cupcake: 310 calories, 21 g total fat, 9 g saturated fat, 85 mg cholesterol, 1,030 mg sodium, 25 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 12 g protein.

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