turtle soup label

Turtle Was a Popular Dish in the 1800s

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Many cookbooks from the 1800s included recipes for cooking turtle; snapping turtle, box turtle, sea turtle, and diamondback terrapin.

Today, many species of turtles are endangered and it’s illegal to capture or kill them.  In the U.S., you can hunt diamondback terrapins and snapping turtles, but only in season and you must have a hunting license.

The photo is of a label from a can of A. Granday’s Turtle Soup. In 1971, The Endangered Species Act was passed and killing sea turtles in United States waters was prohibited.  Granday’s and other turtle canneries went out of business.


Gall – Gall bladder

Quick Oven – A quick oven is about 400-450 degrees fahrenheit and you could hold your hand in the oven about 35 seconds without burning.Scald –

Scald – To heat liquid almost to a boil, until bubbles begin to form around the edge.


Wash four terrapins in warm water, then throw them in a pot of boiling water, which will kill them instantly. Let them boil till the shells crack. Then take them out, and take off the bottom shell. Cut each quarter separate; take the gall from the liver and take out the eggs. Put the pieces in a stew-pan, pour in all the liquor, and cover them with water. Put in salt, cayenne, black pepper, a little mace, and put in a lump of butter the size of an egg. Let them stew for half an hour. Make a thickening of flour and water, and stir a few minutes, then add two glasses of wine. Serve it in a deep covered dish, and put in the eggs just as you dish it.

Take several fine large terrapins, the fattest and thickest you can get. Put them into a large pot of water that is boiling hard, and boil them half an hour or more. Then take them out of the shell, pulling off the outer skin and the toe-nails. Remove the gall, taking care not to break it, or it will render the whole too bitter to be eaten. Take out also the entrails, and throw them away. Then cut up all the meat of the terrapins, taking care to save all the liquid that exudes in cutting up, and also the eggs. Season the whole with pepper, mace, and nutmeg, adding a little salt, and lay among it pieces of fresh butter slightly rolled in flour.

Have ready an ample quantity of paste, made in the proportion of a pound of butter to two large quarts (or pounds) of flour. Butter the inside of an iron pot, and line the sides with paste, till it reaches within one-third of the top. Then put in the pieces of terrapin, with the eggs, butter, &c., and with all the liquid. Lay among the terrapin, square pieces of paste. Then pour in sufficient water to stew the whole properly. Next, cover all with a circular lid, or top-crust of paste, but do not fit it so closely that the gravy cannot bubble up over the edges while cooking. Cut a small cross slit in the top crust. Place the pot, with the pie, over a good fire, and boil it till the whole is thoroughly done, which will be in from three-quarters to an hour after it comes to a boil. Take care not to let it get too dry, but keep at hand a kettle of boiling water to replenish the pot when necessary. To ascertain if the pie is done, lift up with a fork a little of the paste, at one side, and try it low down in the pot.
It may be much improved, by mixing among the pieces of terrapins, (before putting them into the pie), some yolks of hard-boiled eggs, grated or minced. They will enrich the gravy.

Terrapins can be canned as tomatoes or peaches. Parboil them, and seal very hot. As they are so delicate, it would be better to put them up in glass jars. A little salt, cayenne, and black pepper should be put in while boiling.

Put into a stewpan five large spoonfuls of brown sauce, with a bottle of port wine, and a quart of mushrooms. When the sauce boils, put in four fins, and after taking away all the small bones that are seen breaking through the skin, add a few sprigs of parsley, a bit of thyme, one bay leaf, and four cloves, and let it simmer one hour. Ten minutes before it is done, put in five dozen of button onions ready peeled, and see that it is properly salted.

Kill the turtle at daylight in summer, the night before in winter, and hang it up to bleed. After breakfast, scald it well and scrape the outer skin off the shell. Open it carefully, so as not to break the gall. Break both shells to pieces and put them into the pot. Lay the fins, the eggs and some of the more delicate parts by—put the rest into the pot with a quantity of water to suit the size of your family.

Add two onions, parsley, thyme, salt, pepper, cloves and allspice to suit your taste. An hour before dinner, take the parts laid by, roll them in brown flour, fry them in butter, and put them and the eggs in the soup. Half an hour before dinner, thicken the soup with brown flour and butter rubbed together.  And just before dinner, add a glass of claret or Madeira wine.

photo credit


Further Reading:

Whatever Happened to Turtle Soup?

Turtles, Turtle Soup, and Class at Sea


Have You Ever Eaten Turtle Soup? Leave a Comment Below.


Posted in Fish, Soups.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *