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Special Report: Spamarama '98

Mitch Jones with the Bud Lite Girls
by Mitch Jones

(AUSTIN, TX) It was a crisp Saturday morning in March as I arrived at Joe Sears' house to pick Aunt Pearl's entry for Spamarama '98. He had prepared Grilled Spamtasia, a summer pasta salad, as the official entry for The Greater Tuna Corporation's participation in the 20th annual Spamarama.

My job was to man the booth and promote our new show, "Red, White and Tuna," for its upcoming premiere later in the Spring. Armed with posters, bumper stickers, key chains and ballots for the Tuna Reunion Queen contest, I was reminded of my old trade show internship days from college; however, as I entered the grounds that morning, I soon discovered this was NO trade show.

It was Spamarama '98. Just as the name might suggest, this uniquely Austin event is a festival salute to the potted pork product, Spam. Sanctioned by Spam's manufacturer, the Hormel Company, this event has grown to become one of the annual rites of Spring in Texas' capital city. As an Austin resident for 5 years, I had been vaguely aware of Spamarama because of the extensive media coverage garnered by this wacky homage to a canned, potted meat product.

The day before, I had met with the Pontiff of Potted Pork, David Arnesberger, at the crack of dawn for an on-air interview on local radio station KGSR to promote our participation. I learned more about Spamarama in that 15-minute chat than I would ordinarily be able to absorb at that hour. Thanks, however, to a cup of radio station nuclear-strength coffee, I could comprehend, and I was psyched.

Spamarama is essentially a Spam cook-off, similar to a chili cook-off, in which contestants are judged in various categories, including Best Tasting and Worst Tasting. David gave me an autographed copy of the Spamarama cookbook.

Once I arrived and put the finishing touches to our table, the Spamarama festivities began. I looked around to notice some of the other entries and couldn't believe the things people were making with Spam. There were Spam tamales, Spam tostados and Spam dips. I saw Spam Tartare, Spam Quiche and Blackened Spam Alfredo for the haute cuisine set. Curried Spam, Spambrosia and SpamRangoons, for an oriental flair. The stuff must be cool when chefs from actual respectable restaurants are participating. What a challenge!

By now the Spamalympics and Spam Jam had begun, and people were tossing Spam, singing about it and generally wallowing in it. But most of all, they were swallowing it. By the cup, spoon and plateful, it was being devoured. As you might have guessed, there were plenty of adult beverages being served, without which it might have been difficult to fathom how all those slices of Grasshopper Spam Cheesecake from the booth across from me were being downed. My stomach lurches at the thought.

The Spam-frenzied folks couldn't get enough of the stuff. There were skits going on and props being used by some of the contestants, who went so far as to create Spamgator Gumbo and pretended to be a bunch of banjo-playing, cousin-kissing hillbillies from Arkansas. Did I mention that showmanship is an important criterion in this Spamtacular event?

Eventually, a winner emerged: John Meyer's entry, The Man in the Pig Iron Mask. I was hopeful that someone had finally taken care of Leonardo DiCaprio once and for all. As it turned out, though, the winning dish contained Rotel tomatoes, onions, worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt, pepper and, of course, Spam, all sauted together to become Mexican-Style Swiss Spam. John's mother is credited with coming up with the actual recipe.

For more information on the Greater Tuna shows, check out their website.

Our entry didn't win a prize, but we think it's tasty. Here is

Aunt Pearl's Grilled Spamtasia

  • Large bag of elbow, shell or rigatoni pasta
  • 2 Cans of Spam, thickly sliced
  • 1 Medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 Small jar chopped olives
  • 2 Medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 Stalk of celery, chopped
  • 1 Green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 Red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 Cups Canned Garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1 Small package (8 oz.) Sharp Cheddar Cheese, grated
  • 1 Small package (8 oz.) Bleu Cheese, crumbled by hand
  • 1 Bottle of Vinaigrette dressing
Grill sliced Spam in a skillet or on a smoker grill. When thoroughly heated, cut Spam into small chunks.

Mix Spam and remaining ingredients together in a large bowl. Chill before serving. Makes a large picnic serving.

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