None of the recipes called for snow, but the cooks working on their contest entries had no choice. The fat flakes fell everywhere, since they were cooking outside, and they didn't melt unless they landed right in a pan, because it was about 5 degrees above zero.
As far as Jim Yuhnke was concerned, conditions were perfect.
On this January day, the veteran Boy Scout leader was out in the woods with about 500 Scouts and adults for the Greater Niagara Boy Scouts' annual Klondike winter camping event. The weekend's activities included a cooking contest, centered around an ingredient Yuhnke has championed for decades: Spam.
"It's the underdog of meats," Yuhnke declared. "It doesn't need to be refrigerated, so Spam can go anywhere."
Since its invention in the 1930s, Spam has become one of the world's most popular canned meat products, despite lots of people thinking it's gross. After a history that included turns as a World War II staple and a Cold War stockpiling favorite, Spam has taken its place in American culture. After lending its name to unwanted e-mail, it has even crossed the digital frontier.
Not even its maker, Hormel, has a definitive history of its name. First applied in 1937, Spam might have been a shortened version of "Spiced Ham," its original designation.
What's in it? That's clearer: ham, pork, sugar, salt and starch, with the preservative sodium nitrate.
At the Scout camp-out, Spam was the inspiration for more than 20 Scouts and leaders for their inventive dishes. Devon Goeller stuffed banana peppers with a Spam filling and roasted them in a Dutch oven set over a campfire. Clare Banigan won "best tasting" honors with a barbecue Spam sandwich topped with cole slaw.
Spam was stir-fried with Thai flavorings, baked into Tex-Mex lasagna and made into Spam sushi.
There were even Spam desserts, like roasted pineapple chunks and Spam served in a hollowed-out pineapple and topped with whipped cream.
No one had more entries that Yuhnke, the former Buffalo schoolteacher that Scouts call the Spam King. His four entries included teriyaki Spam kabobs, Spam Reubens, and his piece de resistance: Spam Wellington, its pastry baked to a golden brown over the fire.
He didn't win this time, but Yuhnke's other mission -- Spam evangelism -- was successful. "People got to experiment, have fun doing it, and more people were exposed to Spam."
"A lot of the kids that have been in my Boy Scout troop, they first hear 'Spam,' they go 'blech,' " Yuhnke said. "Once they eat it in a variety of different ways, though, they acquire a taste for it. You have to overcome your prejudices about Spam."
Many American soldiers returning from World War II had an aversion to the pink cubes, after Spam's portability made it a mainstay of the GI diet. The Spam habit stuck across the Pacific Rim, especially in Hawaii, where dishes like musubi (Spam sushi) abound and McDonald's outlets serve Spam for breakfast.
Spam also became part of British culture during lean postwar years when fresh meat was scarce.
The product has transformed with time. The layer of meat jelly that spawned a million yuck faces is mostly gone. Spam comes in a dozen types these days, including Hot & Spicy, Lite, and Oven Roasted Turkey.
Yuhnke put Spam on the menu at every camp-out, and even declared one weekend a Spam-a-thon, serving it at each meal.
He admits, however, that he rarely eats it at home, despite sharing cooking duties with his wife, Renate, who says she might eat it once a year.
But they both got a kick out of Jim's retirement party about nine years ago. Knowing his penchant for Spam, someone joked that he should bring it to the celebration.
The "Spueben," a Spam Reuben, was born. Yuhnke took slices of cocktail rye, and topped them with sauerkraut, shredded Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing and seared Spam.
Renate Yuhnke described passing them out at the event. "This one woman kept coming back, saying 'These are really good, what are they?' "
"Remember how you were making fun of Jim for Spam?" Renate asked. "Guess what?"
>Jim Yuhnke's Spam Wellington
1 can Spam, cut in half lengthwise
1 tube of crescent rolls
2 to 3 tablespoons mushroom pate or smooth liverwurst, or to taste
1 egg, beaten well with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sear both sides of the Spam pieces in a hot skillet.
On a flat surface, unroll crescent roll dough. Counting two dough triangles as one square, cut off one and one half squares. Pinch seams together to create one rectangle.
Spread pate or liverwurst on the center of this rectangle.
Place one of the seared pieces of Spam on the pate and fold the dough around the Spam to completely enclose it. Pinch closed any gaps and trim to fit.
Repeat with second Spam piece.
Turn over and lightly cut a criss-cross pattern into top dough, not penetrating into meat. Brush top and sides with egg wash.
Bake at 350 degrees, on baking sheet in oven -- or at a campfire, on a rack in a Dutch oven -- until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Watch carefully so it doesn't overcook.
Take out of oven and rest about 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with mashed potatoes and choice of vegetable. (Serves 2.)