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Turtle Soup
Mock Turtle Soup

by Janet Clarkson

Turtle soup was popular in the 19th century probably as a symbol of opulence - particularly during the Victorian era. It was considered essential at ceremonial dinners - for example it was always on the menu for the Lord Mayors banquets in London. The soup was made from the green cartilage that lines the shell of the turtle (no doubt the meat was added too) - this gave it a particularly gelatinous texture. I suspect it was food snobbery which helped make it popular - it was imported and therefore expensive, and only for the wealthy.

I suppose this led inevitably to the "Mock" variety appearing in the early 1800's. Apparently 15,000 turtles a year were imported into England from the Cayman Islands (to my knowledge it is the only place in the world which now has farmed green turtles) They nearly became extinct in many areas, and are still protected in most places. I suppose that meant that Mock Turtle was the only turtle soup for anyone! I did read once that Abe Lincoln was a thrifty chap - so no doubt this is why he personally ordered the soup for that day.

Mock Turtle Soup

Mrs. Beeton (first ed 1861) She gives 2 recipes, and the second one (called "More Economical") uses veal knuckle.

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household management...

A knuckle of veal weighing 5 or 6 lbs.,

2 cow heels,

2 large onions stuck with cloves,

1 bunch of sweet herbs, 3

blades of mace,

salt to taste,

12 peppercorns,

1 glass of sherry,

24 forcemeat balls,

a little lemon juice,

4 quarts of water.


Put all the ingredients, except the forcemeat balls and lemon juice in an earthen jar, and stew for 6 hours. Do not open it till cold, When wanted for use, skim off all the fat, and strain carefully; place it on the fire, cut up the meat into inch and a half squares, put it, with the forcemeat balls and lemon juice, into the soup, and serve.
It can be flavoured with a teaspoonful of anchovy, or Harvey's sauce. Sufficient for 10 persons she says.

Forcemeat balls

She gives a lot of recipes for different forcemeat balls for various dishes - the one for turtle soup is "Soyer's recipe" (he got around that guy) Take a pound and a half of lean veal from the fillet, and cut it in long thin slices; scrape with a knife till nothing but the fibre remains; put it in a mortar, pound it 10 minutes, or until a puree; pass it through a wire sieve (use the remainder in stock); then take 1 pound of good fresh beef suet, which skin, shred, and chop very fine; put in a mortar and pound it; then add 6oz of panada (that is, bread soaked in milk and boiled till nearly dry) with the suet; pound them well together, add the veal,; season with a teaspoonful of salt, a quarter of one of pepper, half that of nutmeg; work all well together; then add four and eggs by degrees, continually pounding the contents of the mortar. When well mixed, take small pieces in a spoon, and poach in some boiling water; and if it is delicate, firm, and of a good flavour, it is ready for use.

Mock Turtle Soup 2

From Mary Randolph's, The Virginia Housewife .
It was first printed in 1824, and this recipe comes from the 1860 edition

Have a large head(of a calf or veal) cleaned nicely without taking off the skin, divide the chop from the front of the head, take out the tongue, (which is best when salted,) put on the head with a gallon of water, the hock of a ham or a piece of nice pork, four or five onions, thyme, parsley, cloves and nutmeg, pepper and salt, boil all these together until the flesh on the head is quite tender, then take it up, cut all into small pieces, take the eyes out carefully, strain the water in which it was boiled, add half a pint of wine and a gill of mushroom catsup, let it boil slowly till reduced to two quarts, thicken it with two spoonsful of browned flour rubbed into four ounces of butter, put the meat in, and after stewing it a short time, serve it up. The eyes are a great delicacy.


More on President Lincoln's Inauguration Day

On Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management

The Virginia Housewife, Jeffersonian Dinners

About Mary Randolph




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