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Isleton's annual SPAM fest lures hungry crowd

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Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2002 10:00 pm

"I think, therefore I SPAM," read the T-shirt of a San Francisco man visiting Isleton on Sunday for the sixth annual SPAM festival at the Hotel del Rio.

The shirt's message was never more fitting than Sunday afternoon as a packed bar of SPAM lovers flocked to what has become a cult event which includes a SPAM preparation competition, the winner of which is named the King or Queen of SPAM.

"The tasting is absolutely beyond belief. It is amazing what they can do with SPAM," said Bill Cox, of Isleton.

The SPAM fest began in June 1997 when the Delta flooded. A group of Isleton residents moved into rooms at the Hotel del Rio, their houses submerged in as much as 9 feet of water, and made the best of what they had, which consisted of SPAM and alcohol, said Gary Allen, who is also known as Capt. SPAM.

"They put us up and we threw a party," said Allen, wearing a top hat and a black cape over his navy SPAM T-shirt.

Allen and his wife, Linda, were among the founding members of the Isleton SPAM festival. Gary was the winner of this year's SPAM carving competition.

The festival features creative recipes that use SPAM, the canned luncheon meat, which first hit grocery store shelves in 1937.

Among this year's more creative entries:

. Romance with SPAM: Real Men Love SPAM, Real Women Know It - A carbonara pasta dish, served with a creamy SPAM sauce and presented with bread and a bottle of red wine.

. Campin' SPAM Stew - A hearty stew dish made with SPAM.

. SPAM Around Dessert - A peach tart circled with thinly sliced SPAM around the perimeter of the pie.

. Hot SPAM-a-Dillo Eggs - Egg-shaped jalapeno poppers with a SPAM enhanced filling!

. SPAM-a-Getti - Spaghetti with red SPAM sauce.

. SPAM Quiche - Quiche with SPAM.

. Cheese SPAM-a-Roll - A bread spread with cheese and SPAM.

The judges vote on taste, originality and presentation, according to the rules of the SPAM festival.

One judge, Chuck Price, of San Francisco, who is also a member of the national SPAM organization, the Official SPAM Fan Club, explained what he liked best about the event.

"I like the originality of the presentation. This is my first time judging and it's fantastic," Price said.

After lengthy deliberations, and the chance for guests to choose their favorite SPAM dish, the winner was named: Linda Allen, Mrs. Capt. SPAM, won her third SPAM Queen crown for the Cheese SPAM-a-Roll dish, a recipe that her father made up in the 1940s.

And the People's Choice award went to the Hot SPAM-a-Dillo Eggs, made by Vicky Casovia, of Isleton.

Pat Walsh, of Bethel Island, who did a summer class at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, was impressed with the quality of the food.

"This stuff is great for being out of a can," Walsh said.

And Walsh's friend, Spike, put it best: "I like the dishes where you can really savor the SPAM."

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