Thursday, April 12, 2012

"They Actually Eat That:" Turtle Soup.

If you have ever read/watched a non-Disney version of Alice in Wonderland, you might have heard of a little something called "turtle soup." In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a gryphon and a mock turtle (to be discussed later) sing about the joy that is turtle soup.

But that's just Alice in Wonderland's doing, right? That book has trials about stolen tarts and other crazy things. For all we know, turtle soup might be something Carroll thought up while on drugs. I mean, who would think that a turtle would be appetizing? Right?

Nnnnope! Turtle soup is unfortunately very real, and is enjoyed by almost every continent with access to turtles. Freshwater, saltwater, doesn't matter - if a place has turtles, there is a good chance it has turtle soup. It's usually made with the meat or blood of a turtle. Hell, turtle soup is one of the few foods the U.S. has in common with Europe and China.

That said, turtle soup is illegal in most parts of the United States (which is probably why it's so obscure here). Back before we cared about things like sustainability,  the ideal turtle for soup required a turtle that was around ten pounds in weight. When we say "turtle" in this case, by the way, we are usually talking about either snapping turtles or green sea turtles. Yes, those sea turtles are the exact same kind that you see burying eggs on nature channels. Most of them are endangered, and a lot of other turtle species are vulnerable to over-hunting. Now you know why this soup's illegal in the States.

China is a whole different story. In China, soft-shelled turtles are farmed more or less sustainably. Hard-shelled turtles are avoided in soup for a number of reasons, but can still be made into jelly. Turtle soup is popular in China and Singapore to the degree that China has over 1,500 registered turtle farms. They're probably more economical and ecologically-friendly than pigs and cattle, but don't quote me on it.

As for Europe, they not only have turtle soup, but also...mock turtle soup. Technically, the 'turtle' singing in the Alice story is a mock turtle. Although no good description is given in the book, the artist drew the not-turtle as a bizarre mix between sea turtle and calf. The reason for this? Mock turtle soup utilizes a calf's less-palatable parts, such as the brains, horns, and hooves, in its making:

"Mrs. Fowle's Mock Turtle Soup,:[3] "Take a large calf's head. Scald off the hair. Boil it until the horn is tender, then cut it into slices about the size of your finger, with as little lean as possible. Have ready three pints of good mutton or veal broth, put in it half a pint of Madeira wine, half a teaspoonful of thyme, pepper, a large onion, and the peel of a lemon chop't very small. A ¼ of a pint of oysters chop't very small, and their liquor; a little salt, the juice of two large onions, some sweet herbs, and the brains chop't. Stand all these together for about an hour, and send it up to the table with the forcemeat balls made small and the yolks of hard eggs." (Wikipedia. citing an old cookbook.)

Yeah. I'd take real turtle soup over that any day.

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