Saturday, April 16, 2011

Weekend Cooking #8: Victory through Ham Loaf

When I told a friend of mine about Weekend Cooking, she told me an interesting wartime story about her father and ham loaf.

It seems that as a young man, my friend’s father was a flight deck officer on the USS Ticonderoga.  In January, 1945, the ship was somewhere in the pacific near southern China. On January 21, 1945, her father was in an elevator, talking with the chaplain in his way to the flight deck where he was about to go on duty.  Suddenly, the ship was attacked by a Japanese kamikaze plane.  The pilot crashed his plane into the flight deck (you can see the hole in the side of the ship if you look closely) and once his bomb exploded, the ship was attacked by more kamikaze pilots. Despite the fires, the chaos and the heavy losses of life that followed, the ship’s captain and crew managed to get things somewhat under control. During the slow trip back to San Francisco, there was no fresh food let to eat, it all been destroyed during the attack.  All they had was Spam. As a result, my friend’s father swore then and there he would never eat Spam again.

USS Ticonderoga after being attacked on January 21, 1945.

In San Francisco, he was given a leave and returned home to New York to see his wife who was staying with her mother while he was away.  Most of his uniforms had also been destroyed or were simply not fit to wear, so when he arrived back east, he was almost arrested by MPs for not being in a proper uniform, he was only wearing what could be salvaged.  They let him go when he could prove he was really in the Navy and had been on the Ticonderoga when it was attacked.  His mother-in-law, hearing about his terrible ordeal and who was very fond of him, planned a very special welcome home dinner.  She begged and borrowed all the ration coupons she could get to surprise him with a home cooked dinner of ham loaf.  All he could think of was Spam, and he didn't think he would be able to eat it.  But, did he eat the ham loaf and pretend he loved it? You bet he did, his wife made sure of that and he never ate ham loaf again either.

Apparently, a lot of people swore  that they would never eat Spam again after the war, including my mother. Consequently, I have never tasted it, nor have I wanted. However, I have had homemade ham loaf, which can be good. Ham loaf is one the the things my mother would make with left over ham from Easter. I don’t have her recipe, but here is one from Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen by Joanne Lamb Hayes on page 48 that is pretty close to what I remember.

Ham Loaf with Molasses
6 servings
1/4 cup corn flakes, crumbled
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg
2 tbsp molasses
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 lb. ground ham
1/2 lb. ground pork
1- Combine corn flakes, milk, egg, molasses and closes in a medium bowl.  Set aside for 5 minutes.
2- Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease an 8 inch loaf pan.
3- Add ham and port to corn flake mixture and stir with a fork until combined.  Pack into greased pan.
4- Bake until a meat thermometer inserted in the center of the loaf registers 170°F - about 50 to 55 minutes.  Cool in pan 5 minutes.  Carefully remove to serving platter and serve immediately, or cool 20 minutes, cover and refrigerate to serve cold.
In the end, our ham loaf looked a lot like Spam, but it didn't necessarily taste like it.  We forgot to take a picture when we tested this recipe out, but here is an old 1942 ad for Spam that isn't far off (except for the lima beans, which I don't like.)

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  1. Wow, what a story! And who can blame the man for never, ever wanting ham loaf or Spam again. I don't think I've ever tasted Spam. My mom used to make ham salad out of leftover ham.

  2. That is some story. Amazing that they were able to get control after such an attack.
    The ham loaf sounds so good, but I can't say I blame your friends father.

  3. Super story! When I saw the blog title, I thought, "Ham Loaf sounds so familiar." I was born in 1954 so maybe it's something we ate when I was little!? My dad, a Pacific arena vet, doesn't like spam either. In fact, he won't eat casseroles! I wonder if that's a WWII holdover?

  4. I actually like Spam...
    and I bet I would love ham loaf!

  5. What an interesting story and picture to go with it. I love all war stories, and am grateful every time I read one, knowing it is being preserved for all time. Great job.

  6. Your ham loaf sounds delicious to me. I grew up in that era and we ate lots of ham loaf too. I remember it as tasting different from Spam - more like a rich pork loin, I have an old ham loaf recipe that I'm going to dig out and see how it compares. Just in time for the post-Easter dilemma of what to do with the leftover ham.

  7. It's interesting how food is so tied up with specific memories.. like how you said in a comment that you miss the Jewish Deli smell.

    I think I'll be ok if I never eat ham loaf, though.

  8. Great story :)

    I actually have that cookbook, and have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed cooking from it.

  9. What a fun story. I had both spam and ham loaf as a kid and they didn't taste the same at all! Ham loaf was much better, but spam had it's place, kind of like balogna.

  10. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I really appreciate them. I suspect people have different ways of making ham loaf and doctoring Spam. I am thinking maybe I should try Spam just to see what I have missed all these years.

  11. I read the recipe with interest, especially the part about adding port! "Add ham and port to corn flake mixture and stir with a fork until combined."

    Oh but before that comes "molasses and closes".