Historic and Unusual Recipes…Just for fun !!! —- How to Cook a Terrapin (or Turtle)

I’m fascinated with old recipes – old ways of baking and cooking – whether from the Renaissance, Victorian or Colonial times etc. If we think about it for a moment, it hasn’t been all that long since we cooked in stoves or chimneys over wood fires! In fact, it hasn’t been that long since we had to slaughter the animals we were going to prepare. Almost every part of the slaughtered animal was eaten.. the tail, the snout, the stomach lining, and (in the Middle East) the eyeballs, because if you’d put lots of time, effort and, perhaps, money into raising an animal, you didn’t want to waste a thing.

Piggy-Back Turtles!

We slaughtered and ate our animals when we owned our farm in Quebec, although, I must confess I couldn’t eat our pigs….I had given them names and they had come to trust me…

One time we barbequed one of our pigs. We basted it with our own maple syrup and garlic – oooh – did it smell good. But, when it came time to eat, I just couldn’t.

I was, though, able to eat the turkey and Guinea Fowl we raised. In fact, I cleaned and de-feathered a Guinea Fowl not long after we had slaughtered it. (Creepy…. the bird did flop around a good awhile without it’s head….) I’ve made delicious rabbit stews with some of our rabbits. In fact, now that I think of it, I once cooked a wild Snow Goose in some maple syrup and onions…it was really tasty, but a bit tough…(Same thing goes for the Guinea Fowl !)

So – here’s my first post in the “Historic and Unusual Recipes” category –  How to Cook Terrapin (Turtle) – from an old Fanny Farmer Cookbook  Enjoy – that is, if you enjoy reading about unusual recipes!I

In February 2013  I posted How to Cook a Terrapin (a.k.a.Turtle) just “for fun” and informational value because I love to see how (and what) people used to consider “delish” years ago, whether from the 1500s – or the 1900s!  But within a few months I realized many people were, in fact, using this recipe to prepare turtles for eating.

How to Cook a Terrapin (a.k.a. Turtle)
Red-Eared Pond SliderYou will need:   One 6 – 7 inch LIVE terrapin   (Will be enough for two people.)    Plus one carrot, some sliced onion and 1 stalk celery.

In a large pot, plunge the terrapin into boiling salted water and boil for five minutes. Lift terrapin out of water with a skimmer. Remove skin by rubbing briskly with a towel. Pull out the head with a skewer and rub off skin. 

Return terrapin to pot. Add 1 carrot, some sliced onion and 1 stalk of celery. Simmer until feet fall off and shell cracks – about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Once more, remove terrapin from pot, lay it on it’s back and allow to cool only enough to handle. Pull out the nails from the feet.  Cut under the shell close to the upper shell and carefully remove upper shell.

Empty the upper shell and carefully remove and discard sand bags, gall bladder and thick, heavy part of intestines.

Cut terrapin meat  into pieces about 1 1/2′ long.

++  The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, the origin of this recipe, advises serving the liver and smaller part of the intestines, cut up small, plus any turtle eggs with the meat. However, you just might not choose to eat those parts…

++  According to Fannie Farmer, “Most terrapin gourmets make no attempt to remove the bones”.

To serve the terrapin “Washington Style”, make a white cream sauce by melting 1 1/2 Tbs. butter, add 1 1/2 Tbs. flour, stir until well mixed, then add 1 cup cream. Simmer mixture, using a whisk if you have one, until thickened.

Add cooked terrapin meat and 1/2 cup sauteed chopped mushrooms. Season to taste.

Just before serving, add two slightly beaten eggs & mix the eggs in well.  (Adding the eggs thickens the white cream sauce – but  – adding the eggs is NOT necessary.)

++  ++  If the sauce is too thick, add a bit more cream.

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My Yellow Farmhouse - Cooking with Love!

Sure, it's necessary to eat to survive - but that's not any fun!! The fun comes from cooking, serving and eating with lots of love, I began this blog to share some of the delicious recipes I've gathered over the years. Thanks for dropping by & sharing the love!

8 thoughts on “Historic and Unusual Recipes…Just for fun !!! —- How to Cook a Terrapin (or Turtle)

  1. I never heard of eating terrapin until I read about the head of the USA Army during the 1800’s. When he retired he moved for several months to NYC near Delmonico’s Restaurant, and ate terrapin every day. He said it was the finest meat on God’s earth. This recipe hints at how difficult it is to prepare and cook, which would make it pretty pricey. Thanks for posting.


    1. Hi Bob – thanks for taking the time to comment! I loved reading about the head of the Army during the 1880s!
      Now a days turtle is pricey – for the reason you mentioned – and also because turtles, like frogs, are becoming rarer and rarer. A few decades ago – in the Philadelphia area – the used to sell Turtle Bisque (in cans) from the famous Bookbinder’s Restaurant. ; o )


  2. I know this is an old thread, and I hate to give recommendations about restaurants run by “celebrity chefs” but if you are ever in New Orleans visit Paul Prudhomme’s “K-Paul’s.” Truly the finest turtle soup I have ever had-incredibly rich, succulent decadence, shimmering and lightly braced with sherry-just wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Olen – thanks so much for your comments! I LOVE New Orleans and have been there twice and I did eat (only once) at ‘K-Paul’s’ but not the turtle soup, sad to say. I plan to go back to New Orleans, perhaps this February, and I’ll make it a plan to go ‘get me some of that great soup’! On another note, we lived for a while not far from Philadelphia and there was a famous restaurant called Bookbinders which served fabulous turtle soup – and also sold it (canned) in the local markets. ++ I also want to commend you on your wonderful ‘use of words’ in describing the fabulous turtle soup you enjoyed at ‘K-Paul’s’ !! ; o )


  3. LOVE THIS!! It’s interesting that they clean the turtle after its boiled in this receipt. I’ve seen others with clear instructions on how to kill, bleed out and gut the turtle before making into soup. Turtle soup was considered a delicacy from the renaissance to the early 20th century. Since terrapins and turtles were hard to dress out and hard to catch, there are numerous 18th and 19th century receipts for mock turtle soup which call for a skinned calf’s head. Not sure which is grosser. I would try both at least once! (I have grown fond of making head cheese lately).
    Also, with sugaring season upon us, I was enthralled with your descriptions of maple syrup being used for savory dishes. I would LOVE to see recipes for those (and others) using maple sugar and syrup! Sounds Divine!


    1. Ryan – I knew that you would certainly enjoy reading this – and to think that you’re actually familiar with OTHER recipes on how to “prepare turtle”. You’re right about turtle soup being a delicacy up to the 20th century. I remember when you could buy canned turtle soup, at least outside of Philly. And Bookbinder’s Restaurant in Philadelphia (now defunct) used to serve an awesome turtle soup. I remember they served it with a topped with a little sherry – it was awesome!! About the idea of using a calf’s head for mock turtle soup… you’re right, I think that would be way grosser than just using the turtle. About the recipes for savory dishes using maple syrup, I’ll have to see if I wrote any of them down. If not, I’ll try to replicate at least one and post it on the blog. I do know I won’t be posting a recipe for Snow Goose Cooked with Maple Syrup ’cause you sure can’t buy Snow Goose at the store!


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