The term is older than I, and the OED, thought. There was a spate of advertisements in Queensland newspapers in 1879 for “luncheon meats” in a context which seems to suggest that the phrase was used in a generic fashion to indicate a range of canned meats of perhaps a higher quality than we usually expect from the term. The advertisements read:
Pressed Ox Tongues, Sheep Tongues, Corned Beef, Fitzroy Luncheon meats (in 2 lb. and 4 lb..tins), Rounds of Beef (in tins), Camp Pie, Picnic Pies, Potted Meats of all kinds comprising -Ham, Tongue, Strasbourg, Anchovy and Bloater Pastes, Jugged Hare, Roast Grouse, Roast Partridge, Turkey, Chicken, Extract of Meat, &c.
Canned Australian meat became a huge industry in the second half of the nineteenth century. It solved the dual problems of a meat surplus in Australia and a meat shortage in Britain. By the 1940’s the situation had changed however (I am not sure of the factors involved yet) and luncheon meat became an economical product for domestic use. In the 1950’s luncheon meat was a common topic in cookery columns.
Luncheon Meat Patties
To serve a tin of pork luncheon meat and make it really attractive for the family calls
upon one's ingenuity, but why not try this novel and tasty way of serving tinned luncheon meat which is so attractive that guests as well as members of the family will praise you.
The following ingredients are given for making the patties for six people from a tin of luncheon meat containing 12 ounces.
You will also require half a cup of porridge oats, a cup milk, 2 tablespoons of tomato ketchup, 1 teaspoonful of prepared mustard, three cooking apples.
Combine, first, the ingredients with the exception of the apples. When thoroughly mixed (the luncheon meat will, of course, have been chopped or minced), shape into balls and fry until brown.
The cooking apples in the meantime should have been prepared in the usual way for baking with sugar and a drop of water. When these are done, take out carefully and cut in half, placing a meat
pattie on each half. Bake for a further two or three minutes and serve hot.
Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld) of Janaury 5, 1952
Luncheon Meat Cakes with Tomatoes, Eggs.
Solve the meat problem with a tin of luncheon meat. Eggs and tomatoes add extra flavour to this interesting dish.
1 lb tin luncheon meat.
Sweet pickles or chutney.
3 large tomatoes.
Pepper and salt.
1 egg for each person.
2 tablespoons chopped parsley.
1 level dessertspoon butter.
Pepper and salt.
1 tspn. lemon juice.
Method: Open both ends of luncheon meat tin, push out contents to keep shape. Cut into five or six thick slices (one for each person). Arrange slices on well-greased lamington tin. Spread with
pickles or chutney. Cut tomatoes in halves, arrange with cut side up on luncheon meat. Sprinkle with pepper and salt, bake in mod. Oven until meat is thoroughly heated and tomato cooked
(about 20 minutes). Poach or fry eggs until cooked. Place an egg carefully on each meat and tomato cake. Mix together melted butter, parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Put a spoonful on top of each egg just before serving.
Sydney Morning Herald of September 17, 1953.
Breakfast Scramble is Curried
1 tin luncheon meat (about 4 to 6 oz).
1 level dstspn. butter.
1 tblspn. milk.
1 level tspn. curry powder.
Method: Grate meat into long shreds, using a coarse grater, melt butter in sauce-pan, add luncheon meat, shake until browned a little. Beat eggs, milk, curry powder, add to luncheon meat, scramble till eggs are lightly set. Serve on hot buttered toast.
Sydney Morning Herald, on September 3, 1953.
I now officially declare the Luncheon-Meat Recipe contest open. Let us see what delights and monstrosities we can find made from this versatile ingredient.