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What is Mock Turtle Soup?

By J.M. Densing
Updated May 16, 2024
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Mock turtle soup is an imitation turtle soup. It can be made with a variety of different meat sources and spices, and is meant to taste like green turtle soup, which was a prized delicacy years ago. It is not, as suggested by the Red Queen in the book Alice in Wonderland, made of "mock turtles." However, turtle meat is very hard to get and very expensive, so cooks developed recipes for a mock version of the soup so that it could be enjoyed by more people.

Green turtle soup was a popular dish in the Victorian era, especially in England. Even at that time, turtle meat was extremely expensive because the turtle meat had to be imported from the Cayman Islands. This meant that turtle soup was a dish that could only be eaten by the rich, and in fact it became a bit of a status symbol. It was frequently served in the homes of royalty and nobility, and was usually on the menu for important occasions.

Because of the expense of turtle meat, many people could not afford genuine turtle soup, so recipes were developed for mock turtle soup. Many mock turtle soup recipes appeared in cookbooks of the time. These recipes all used other ingredients in the place of the turtle meat, but the rest of the dish was prepared in a similar way. It was particularly important to use the right blend of spices to help get the desired taste.

Many mock turtle soup recipes used ingredients such as brains, feet, and other kinds of organ meat in place of turtle meat. One published version called for boiling a calf's head, removing it from the liquid and cutting up the meat, then straining the water. After that the recipe calls for adding wine and ketchup to the strained water, then thickening it with flour, putting the meat back in and stewing it for a while before serving. This same recipe also suggested that the eyes were a special treat, and should be handled with extra care.

In modern times, the turtles used for real turtle soup are protected in most parts of the world, so anyone who wants to try it will have to settle for the mock turtle soup variety. Some modern versions use standard beef instead of calf's head or other organs. There is a version of mock turtle soup popular in the city of Cincinnati in the United States. It's manufactured by the Worthmore Company and uses lean beef, ketchup, hard boiled eggs, and lemons. It is said to look like any other beef soup or thin chili, but to have a very unique flavor.

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Discussion Comments

By SnowyWinter — On Sep 02, 2010

@dill1971: It’s not really as bad as it sounds. We used to catch snapping turtles and cook the meat when I was growing up. My grandfather showed me the ropes, so to speak.

The first thing that you do is cut the turtle’s head off. Be very careful when catching or handling snapping turtles because they can take a finger off! After the head is removed, drop the turtle (with the shell) into a very large pot of boiling water. Boil for about ten minutes. That makes cleaning the turtle easier.

Once it is boiled and cooled, take a sharp knife and cut away the shell. Remove the abdominal organs and intestines. Use the meaty portion that is on the top shell. The legs and tail are excellent, as well.

By dill1971 — On Sep 02, 2010

I might regret asking this, but how do you even get the turtle out of the shell to cook it?

By christym — On Sep 02, 2010

@gardenturtle: I had heard of turtle soup but, like you, have never tried it. We were vacationing in New Orleans a few years ago and the restaurant that we had dinner at actually had turtle soup on the menu!

By GardenTurtle — On Sep 02, 2010

We have a pond in front of our home. Often times, there are large turtles in it. One of our neighbors asked me if he could come over and catch some of the turtles. I asked him why he wanted them and he said that his wife makes turtle soup!

I really thought that he was kidding. He assured me that she has been making turtle soup for years. They are an older couple and apparently grew up on catching turtles and making soup.

They caught about four turtles and, sure enough, the next day she brought some turtle soup over. I couldn't make myself eat it but my husband did.

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