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HERRIMAN - Being just 10 years old, Cynthia Coombs had never heard of SPAM - at least not from a can - until her cousin suggested they enter a cooking contest.

"I thought it was Vienna sausage or something," Coombs said of the iconic spiced ham in a blue can.

The cousin never followed through with a recipe. But the outgoing and energetic Coombs, a fifth-grader at Herriman Elementary, headed to the kitchen and found she really jammed with SPAM.

Her ultimate creation - a breakfast dish she dubbed "SPAM-tastic Sunnydogs" - recently earned her the title of SPAM's "National Kid Chef of the Year."

Coombs said in September, before winning the Utah State Fair contest that propelled her to the national competition, she spent an entire day experimenting in the kitchen with her father, Nathan - a longtime SPAM lover.

They tried a few different combinations, but ultimately decided on a breakfast corn dog, made with chunks of SPAM that have been dipped in an apple-cinnamon pancake batter. The sunnydogs are cooked until golden and dipped in maple syrup, applesauce or honey.

"I thought no one else would think of corn dogs," she said. "And after I tried it, I thought it was pretty good. Even people who don't like SPAM would like these."

Of course, there are plenty of folks, especially those from the World War II-generation, who don't need to be coaxed into eating this "wartime delicacy," as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called it.

SPAM, according to the Web site, debuted in 1937 and is made "mostly" from pork shoulder, ham and secret spices.

Back then, Hormel held a contest to name its new product. The winner simply melded the letters from the original name of "spiced ham" to earn the $100 prize.

For her national honor, Coombs received a check for $1,000 and a box of SPAM paraphernalia, including a chef hat, T-shirts and beach balls. Hormel also will donate $1,000 to Primary Children's Medical Center, Coombs' favorite charity.

Melinda Coombs described her daughter as ''extremely energetic and self motivated'' in all sort of activities, not just cooking. She participates in the school play, sings in the school choir and is constantly writing fictional stories and illustrating them. She also plays soccer and volleyball.

"Her mind is always going and she is always thinking of something new to do," she said. "After her cousin mentioned the SPAM contest, Cynthia was so excited, that was all she would talk about."

The experience has Coombs thinking about entering even more cooking contests this year. She wants to pair with her grandmother, who makes great rolls, for a bread contest.

"I think we're just going to go crazy," she said.


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SPAM factoids:

* SPAM was created in 1937

* The Hormel company held a contest to give the product a distinctive name. The winner earned $100 for simply blending the letters of the words "spiced and ham."

* SPAM is made "mostly" from pork shoulder, ham and "secret" spices.

* Russian troops survived on the canned meat during World War II.

* Unsolicited commercial e-mail, or "spam," got its name from a Monty Python skit in which a group of Vikings sang "SPAM, SPAM, SPAM" louder and louder until it was drowning out all other conversation.

SPAM-tastic Sunnydogs

1 (12-ounce) can SPAM classic

1 1/2 cups complete buttermilk pancake mix (such as Bisquick)

2 eggs

1/2 cup applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla

teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup water

Vegetable oil or light olive oil

18 short kabob sticks, Popsicle sticks or toothpicks

Honey, maple syrup and applesauce, for dipping

Cut SPAM width-wise into 6 ( 1/2 -inch) pieces. Cut each section into thirds. In a bowl, combine pancake mix, eggs, applesauce, vanilla and cinnamon. Slowly add water and stir until combined. (The batter should be fairly thick.)

Heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Using a fork, dip SPAM pieces into batter, coating evenly. Let any excess batter drip off before placing into skillet. Cook for several minutes on one side until golden brown. Turn and cook on second side until golden and batter is cooked through. Repeat with remaining pieces.

Remove from skillet and insert a kabob or Popsicle stick into one end. Serve with honey, maple syrup or applesauce as a dip. (Use any excess pancake batter to make small pancakes to serve alongside sunnydogs.)

Makes 18 pieces.

-Cynthia Coombs