Yesterday I climbed onto my parents' floathouse roof to remove their chimney cap and drop a brush down the chimney. As a reward, my mom invited me to dinner with nostalgia on the menu.
When we were kids we didn't have electricity for a freezer or refrigerator, so, besides lots of fresh seafood, venison and duck, we ate a lot of canned products. And, since it was cheap back in the day, my parents stocked up on cases of Spam. I could do the whole Bubba-with-shrimp routine from Forrest Gump, but you know it already. Suffice to say, we had Spam prepared in every way known to man (and maybe those aliens from The Simpsons).
But I think my whole family would agree that Spam spaghetti holds a special place in all our hearts.
Only last week, my oldest brother stopped by to barter a couple vacuum-packed bags of salmon he'd caught and smoked for a couple cans of Spam because he was In The Mood (for some Spam Spaghetti, that is).
"You have to have that every now and then," he said, and we knew exactly what he meant.
My two youngest brothers have always been ardent, even obssessive, fanboys for Spam. (See photo below.) They've told me that sometimes they'll take a break from work (they now live in Ketchikan), go down to the grocery store, buy a can of Spam and eat it raw. Now that's true love, more real than Alaskan Bush People and more touching than the end of Princess Bride.
When my nephew Erik stayed with us we soon corrupted his unblemished city tastes. By the time he went back home to Florida, his favorite sandwich was 2 naked pieces of bread slapped around a hunk of raw Spam. And when it was time to throw a few steaks on the barbie, he insisted his be traded out for--you guessed it, a nice chunk of Spam.
Two more nephews who came to live with us, Sterling and Ethan, developed a nonstop hankering for homemade Spam hotpockets.
But I think I'm safe in saying Spam spaghetti was always the hands down favorite.
My most memorable Spam spaghetti dinner came after my one experience of commercial longlining for halibut--by hand.
A girl who attended the same bush school as I had, and was my sister-in-law at the time, talked me into going in on the fishing trip with her.
The vessel we had at our disposal was a 21-foot speedboat with a trunk cabin and canopy. The only thing was, the inboard engine had gone out on it, so to move it and steer it, we had a 13-foot, open Boston Whaler powered by a 25 hp Mercury outboard lashed alongside it. The combination was unwieldy at the best of times and a complete nightmare in heavy seas--as we were to find out.
I also disovered that hauling in hundreds of feet of longline with heavy fish attached by hand was not the most fun I'd ever had. Especially when you forgot to wear rubber gloves and you were pulling in line encased in stinging jellyfish tentacles. (By the way, just for future reference, for those taking notes, do not EVER rub your eyes after practicing the above behavior.)
We also found we'd forgotten to bring a knife. We discovered this when, because of the awkward steering situation, we backed over our own line and got it caught in the prop.
So there we were. Befouled and drifting with no help in sight--nothing but wilderness and water on all sides of us. Fortunately, I had a fingernail clipper on me. We freed the rope from the prop a tiny strand at a time. Who said women aren't resourceful in clutch situations of their own making?
On the last day of the halibut opening we had to go pull our line in a rising gale. Big combers were stacking up with spray lashing us as we hauled line hand over hand and battled the wind, waves and a terrific tidal current. The two boats fought each other with the fury of bucks in rutting season, rising up and repeatedly slamming each other as viciously as possible. When we got the last buoy on board we were shaking and exhausted, but we still had to steer our ungainly albatross of a boat-combination to a safe harbor.
We finally dropped anchor in a small bay near my parents' floathouse. By then we didn't have the strength to crawl out of our wet clothes, let alone fix something to eat.
Will I ever forget the life-reaffirming and rejuvenating experience when my mom sent my dad to us in the skiff bearing two heaping plates of foil-covered, piping hot Spam spaghetti?
That first bite, my friends, was a moment for the ages.
For those of you who want to experience the REAL taste of bush Alaska, here you go (my version).
1 8-oz package of spaghetti noodles (I'm gluten free, so I use corn spaghetti)
1 tablespoon of extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 can of Spam, diced
1/2 6-oz can of pitted black olives, diced
1 15-oz can of tomato sauce
And a sprinkling of each according to taste:
red pepper flakes
Old Bay seasoning (my mom uses different Mrs. Dash seasonings)
Optional: Lemon, Tajin seasoning.
Put pot of water on to boil. Put olive oil in a skillet. Saute the diced Spam, onion and olives. Add the tomato sauce and seasonings. Let simmer while the noodles are cooking. When noodles are al dente,* drain. Mix in the sauce, or pour a portion of the sauce over individual plates of noodles.
For zest use fresh lemons squeezed over the meal, to taste. Or try Tajin, a delicious, lime-flavored seasoning that we were turned onto by Jerry Hernandez, who went above and beyond the line of duty while shopping for us when he was in charge of rural grocery orders at Tatsuda's market in Ketchikan.
*We've found that a good test for when noodles are al dente is to fling them at the ceiling. When they stick, they're done. Don't forget to clean them off the ceiling later.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)