My fellow citizens, today I come to you with a message, good news for our grieving nation. After years of political turmoil, pandemic, and economic hardship, a new hero has emerged just in time for the holiday season. Time-honoured, briny, and unabashedly old-fashioned, she’s both a proud veteran and a feminist icon. With nods to festive food traditions from around the world, from the Pacific Rim to jolly old England, her many layers of flavors are matched only by the proud diversity of our nation’s own population.
It’s Hormel’s figgy pudding spam.
A Spam Brand spokesperson tells me that 12.8 cans of spam are consumed every second, so if you want to try this one, you’d better act fast. Though they plan to continue the holiday flavor tradition for future seasons, Hormel’s limited-time festive flavor is available only at Spam.com, Amazon.com, and Walmart.com while supplies last. It retails two 12-ounce cans for around $10.
It’s not Spammy fig pudding; I checked. The first ingredient is still supposedly pork. Second, however, is sugar, closely followed by the flavors of…comfort and joy? Do you mean like instant pudding? Does this refer to literal figs? Americans generally have no idea, except for a vague notion that we’re supposed to ask for it while singing Christmas carols. The version of the song “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” has varied over time, but overall, it really is a pudding in the British English sense, a dessert, and it really has figs in it. (Spam hilariously bows down with an animated video for the song, updated to wish you all a “figgy Christmas” and a “SPAM®-tastic New Year.” Stylistic nod to the old Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special and a casual reference to swine cannibalism are unmissable).
The earliest recipes for “Fygey” are so old they need to be translated into modern English to be understood, resulting in a super-dense cake of ground almonds, spices, brandy, and a metric ton of raisins plus figs. The texture resembles slightly cured plaster of paris. Later recipes added things like breadcrumbs, wheat flour, eggs, and a solid animal fat called suet. If you’ve ever had fruitcake, it’s not entirely different, except that it’s boiled or steamed instead of baked. Many recipes call for us to drizzle with brandy and let sit for four to six weeks, then drizzle with more brandy and light.
So, let’s open a can and light a match.
It just smells like ham, and then spices, and then spiced ham. Not bad, but she’s not going to win a beauty pageant any time soon. Still, I’m relieved to see that it doesn’t contain whole raisins. The can cheerfully notes that the spam is fully cooked and ready to eat “hot or cold,” but I’m a wimp. Lots of people love it as a cold spread, but in my opinion spam needs to be fried to give a hint of texture to an evenly doughy slab.
Spam.com has a few suggested recipes to show off your new Christmas monster, like cubed kebabs with red onions and figs, or a Figgy Pudding Spam Baby Dutch Pancake, but I don’t think they’re quite up to the gruesome retro recipe. potential. There are many possibilities! A 1960s Wham Spam Pie would mash it into a quiche, but I’m not sure these flavors would work with that much egg. Perhaps an iconic musubi? Spam’s Festive Musubi recipe would certainly be seasonal, but I’m concerned that the cranberry sauce and nori would compete with the subtle flavors. Baked Spam ‘n’ Limes with Ketchup and Lard…on second thought, I don’t think even I could take it. Let’s start with the classic Christmas recipe of many years gone by: Baked Spam.
It is scratched, glazed, studded and baked. I’ll keep the frosting plain to let the fundamental nature of the “figgy” shine through. If you’d like to try this simplified version yourself, carefully cut out a crosshatch with a long, sharp knife, starting on the diagonals and then in about half-inch intervals. Press teeth into intersections, pour in 2 teaspoons of brown sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon of water, and bake at 375 F for 20 minutes. You can also place in an air fryer on the bake setting for six minutes. It will resurface all polished.
Even with the gold exterior, the interior is still very soft, which is not my thing. It is heavy and greasy when eaten plain, just like regular spam. However, to my surprise, the spices balance well with each other and the flavor of the ham equally. In fact, it is difficult for me to identify the spices. That’s not a criticism, they are warm and complex. I paid close attention to a few bites, eventually choosing ginger, cinnamon, a deep fruit that could be fig or raisin, and a note of citrus zest. When contacted, Spam specified nutmeg, cloves and allspice as well, and confirmed fig and orange, true to its storied fig pudding roots. Want to know what this tastes like without making it yourself? Imagine eating ham, except it’s mushy. And now imagine that it has a slight taste of boiled fruitcake. Soft boiled fruitcake ham isn’t as bad as it sounds. It would work with the maple syrup suggested to serve in Spam’s Dutch baby, for example. Still, I can’t help but feel like it’s not the last frontier.
It’s time to pull out the Spam Birds recipe.
Developed at a time when many food ingredients were rationed due to World War II, the Spam Birds recipe was designed to use less meat than other main dishes by wrapping thinly chopped Spam slices around a tablespoon of stuffing and frying. Magazine ads featuring the recipe often mentioned “expansion points,” making those prized ration card allotments last for more dinners. I’m suddenly repulsed by a macabre, ultra-processed parody of stuffed chicken, and awed by the light-hearted wit and shared patriotism of the culinary age. It is my fervent hope that we can find that common purpose as a nation again. And to that end, I give you Figgy Pudding Spam Birds. I’m going to say the Pledge of Allegiance and take a bite, hand over heart.
The texture is greatly improved by pan-frying on a wide surface and filling with crispy breadcrumbs. The little bite of celery and onion bits are a welcome respite from the heavy fat of the ham paste. The flavor, hand to heaven, is quite good. Especially if it’s crispy, it would work in a whole host of recipes in place of chopped ham or bacon bits, adding some traditional winter flavor without stomping on your grandmother’s recipe collection like Godzilla through Santa’s Village.
So give thanks, America. If all these flavors can not only blend harmoniously, but also enhance the original formula, so can we.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com