A Revolutionary Menu: Snapping Turtle Soup

A Revolutionary Menu (cont.)
Historic Gastronomist Sarah Lohman recreates a centuries-old Independence Day feast.
Written By Sarah Lohman – Photographed by Everett Bogue and Sarah Lohman
Excerpt first published in Edible Queens Magazine, Summer 2010.

Turtle was a traditional summertime treat and was served at early Fourth of July celebrations as soups, steaks, and ragouts.  Snapping turtles were caught locally and sea turtles were imported from the Caribbean.  Instructions for butchering a live sea turtle can be found in America’s earliest cookbook, American Cookery, published in 1796.  The cook was advised to begin early in the day by hanging the turtle upside-down and beheading it.  Further steps included slitting open the intestines to clear away the slime; a wise idea, considering turtles can carry salmonella in their intestinal tract.

I  love finding an historic dish that was commonplace in another era, but is seldom served today.  I decided to prepare this dish, turtle and all, for my July Fourth festivities.  However, I was not ready for the gruesome act of butchering a live turtle in my Queens kitchen.  More importantly, most species of sea turtles are on the endangered species list and freshwater turtling is not sustainable.  I found an appropriate substitute:  I ordered farmed, frozen snapping turtle meat online.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the complex flavor of this soup.  The light broth combined with fresh citrus is an appealing combination for the summer.

Turtle Soup

(Adapted from What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, by Abby Fisher, 1881.)

Turtles can carry salmonella in their intestinal tract.  Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator or in a bowl of cold water, much as you would a turkey.  Handle meat with the same care you would a chicken cutlet.

“Mock” turtle soup can be made by substituting veal, which has a similar flavor, or beef.

1 pound fresh or frozen turtle meat, thawed and cut into one-inch cubes
4 cups beef stock
4 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
3 hard boiled eggs, sliced thin
½ lemon, sliced thin
½ cup sherry

Rinse turtle meat and pat dry; cut into one-inch cubes.  Combine turtle meat and beef stock in a medium pot and season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a rolling boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for two hours, until the meat is tender.  Prepare a tureen or large serving bowl as follows: arrange egg slices in a layer at the bottom of the tureen; then, cover with a layer of lemon slices.  Pour sherry over top.  When the soup is ready, ladle over eggs and lemon.  Serve hot from the tureen.

6 thoughts on “A Revolutionary Menu: Snapping Turtle Soup

  1. When I was young I was invited to the Lotus Club in NYC. It was very posh and exclusive feeling. My host ordered turtle soup for me. It was very sherried, as I recall and an odd greenish color with an ever so slightly gelatinous texture. I thought it was extremely good even though I had thoughts about eating it.. having had a pet turtle as a child. Haven’t had it since but this gets me thinking… thanks for sharing and happy 4th @!!!!

  2. This one time I saw a tuttle it was big and evrything know whatdmsayin? I looked at him and knew he probly tasted good and stuff. Grandaddy said they got 7 kinds of meats up in them.

  3. Pingback: Vol. 1, Part 1, Ch. XV-XXI: Dining, dancing, dueling, and passing on | Worn Piece: A War and Peace blog

  4. Hi there! I’m having a historically-researched pop-up dinner for the 4th of July, and think I’d like to serve this! Where online did you order your turtle from? Having trouble figuring out what seems like the best price and quality.


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