Turtle: An Important Survival Food

Snapping Turtle


   Most of you have never tasted turtle meat, or for that matter even thought about eating turtle meat. Being born and raised in Louisiana I have eaten turtle meat. I have had it prepared in a number of different ways, and to tell you the truth it taste like meat, nothing special just taste like meat. Like most meat it's taste depends more on how it is prepared than what kind it is.

   Now don't get me wrong, you take a nice piece of fresh meat and cook it with only a little salt and sure, you can tell the difference in types of meat. But how many meat dish call for only salt? By using different seasoning you can make chicken and beef taste the same. But that is a discussion for another day.

   Would you eat turtle meat? Let's face it a turtle is a pretty disgusting looking animal, especially a logger head snapper. For myself I would eat turtle long before I would eat opossum or rattlesnake.

   To be practical, turtle can be a very important source of meat in a long term survival situation. There are a number of reasons for this:

  •  Some type turtle can be found throughout the U.S.

  •  Very easy to harvest, no weapons or special skills required.

  •  Can be kept alive for a long period of time, so you will have fresh meat when needed.

  •  Can be used in any number of meat recipes.

   The following two articles are taken from books written in the early 1900’s. At that time turtle meat was an important source of meat in some locations. At the time the government was actually pushing turtle as a source of meat. Today other than a few locations turtle meat is a somewhat seldom used meat. Where it is eaten it is considered a special treat.

   I have included a lot of material because I feel in a longterm survival situation turtle will become an important addition to your diet.

Turtle Trapper

By: C E. Sprague © 1920

   There are some forty different species of Turtle inhabiting the waters of North America. Among the most common is the ” Clielydra Serpintina ” or Snapping Turtle. And inasmuch as this specie is the most valuable of our aquatic reptiles as a food product, from a commercial standpoint, this specie will be discussed throughout this article exclusively.

   The "Snapper" inhabits the greater part of our Eastern Hemisphere within the temperate zones. Up until recent years there has been little demand for their flesh as a food product. Recently, however, owing to the marked scarcity of the Diamond-back salt water terrapin, which by the way, is very closely related to the fresh water snapping turtle, there is an increasing demand for their flesh as a food commodity.

   The Snapping Turtle is found in most all rivers, lakes, and even in small ditches, preferring the slow-running, weed-grown streams and lakes with muddy bottoms.

   Being exceedingly wary, they are, comparatively speaking, very seldom seen.

   Their food consists mostly of fish, frogs, young waterfowl and no doubt many full-grown waterfowl falls prey to this vicious reptile.

   The snapper is looked upon as a natural scavenger. This may apply to some of the other species of turtle but not the snapper, views to the contrary notwithstanding. The snapper kills most of it’s food and experiments show that he has preference to fresh bloody meat, rather than putrid flesh.

   In stalking their prey they bury themselves in the mud on river or lake bottom in fish runways among the weeds or lie under or close beside a sunken log, where they wait patiently, head drawn in, little beady eyes just clear of the mud, ever watching for fish to swim over or close to them. It is a luckless fish indeed that comes within a foot of his head, a quick dart, a snap of those powerful jaws, and the fish is a helpless captive, to be quickly torn to pieces and eaten.

   The snapper has no teeth, but his jaws terminate in hooks, the upper hook extends over the lower one and when closed gnash by each other slightly enabling them to catch and hold even the smallest particle of food.

   If fishing proves dull he moves about looking for other prey, perhaps it might be a frog swimming leisurely out to his favorite lily pad, or a flock of waterfowl feeding way back in the shallows he swims cautiously and deliberately under his victim not breaking the surface of the water until near enough to make the strike, then a quick dart, and another morsel is added to his fare. He grasps waterfowl by the leg pulls them under water to drown.

   The turtle locates his prey through scent. The scent is carried to him by the current of water, Just as the scent of game is carried to the hunting dog through the current of air, and as the dog always scents his game from up-wind, just so does the turtle scent his prey from up stream.

   They very seldom if ever seek their food out of water. In fact if they did so it would be necessary for them to drag it into the water to eat, as it is impossible for the snapper to swallow their food, unless under water.

   The turtle is, of course, a hibernating reptile, burying himself in mud, late in the fall, remaining in a dormant state until the warm days of spring, when he emerges from his winter sleep becoming more active as the weather becomes warmer.

   Therefore the trapper's harvest begins about the time that real summer weather prevails, continuing until late summer. As the season advances toward the later part of summer the turtle becomes more and more inactive due to the fact that he is acquiring more fat each day. In fact in the warmer climates where the season is longer, and perhaps food is more plentiful, he becomes so fat and awkward, near the end of the season, that when out of water he is almost helpless, the flesh protruding beyond his shell causing difficulty in the movement of his limbs.

   He cannot draw his head entirely within his shell as does the Box Turtle nor his tail, but when on the defensive folds his tail around the underedge of upper shell. The upper shell has a rough, ridged appearance with checkered or diamond shaped markings, very rough and notchy around rear edge. As the turtle grows older and larger the upper shell takes on a smoother appearance, dark olive in color and usually has a growth of moss on the back, a very effective camouflage furnished by nature, for indeed they look very much like round, moss- grown stones lying on the river bottom.

   The lower shell or plaston does not extend as far over the body as the upper shell and has a dull yellow color. The skin covering that part of body and head not covered by the shell has a rough, warty appearance, dark olive on the upper and dull yellow on the lower sides.

   The feet are broad and webbed, equipped with five claws. The front feet are used in holding and helping to tear to pieces the prey.

   In swimming the head and neck is extended and is used in conjunction with the tail in guiding themselves through the water. The tail is nearly as long as the body, very thick at base, tapering to a slender point, with a row of spines along center of top.

   The male turtle may be determined by its short, chunky appearance, while the female more trim, longer, and consequently more suple in action.

   In the early summer the female leaves the water in search of a suitable place to deposit her eggs. She usually selects a sandy southern slope where the soil contains a certain degree of moisture. Instinct seems to help the mother turtle in selecting her nest well away from danger of freshet or over- flowing of the river and yet the soil must not become too dry. She digs a hole six or eight inches deep, backs in, and deposits the eggs, sixteen to twenty- four in number. I have been told that greater numbers have been found in a single nest, but I think in those cases more than one female used the same nest, the second one digging open the nest after the first one had left. After she has deposited her eggs she carefully covers the nest, dragging her body over the loose dirt to hide any appearance of digging, then leaves, never to return to look after her off- spring. Her responsibility has ended. The eggs are white, perfectly round, with a hard shell, and they are considered edible by many people. The eggs left under these conditions, fall easy prey to many egg-eating birds and animals such as crows, owls, skunks, rats, etc. The time required to hatch the eggs is eight or nine weeks, according to weather conditions.

   When the young turtle emerges from the shell and digs his way out of the sand, he is again subject to annihilation from those same enemies before mentioned.

   There are many interesting stories told about the young turtle. It has been said that when leaving the nest, they instinctively start straight toward the water, but if a log or any obstruction is encountered that stops his progress, he returns to the nest and makes another start, setting a course at a slightly different angle, repeating this until the water is reached, but never trying to find the way around the obstruction without first returning to the nest. I cannot vouch for this story, however, although I have often watched the young turtles leaving the nest, but always under more favorable conditions for them to reach water.

   The young turtle does not show much activity during the remainder of the first season but buries itself in the moss or weeds in the water. Scientists tell us that they take no nourishment whatever during the first season of their lives, but subsist on a deposit left in their stomachs, composed of the yolk of the egg from which they are hatched. During the second season, those that have withstood the ravages of winter, feed on water insects, young snails, a certain amount of vegetable matter, etc. There is no doubt that a very large per cent of them die during the first winter, especially in the northern climates. After they become two years old they have no natural enemies except man. Naturally the turtle lives to be very old and the older they are the more vicious and wary they become.

   Snapping turtles can live under water without air ten to twelve hours, but no longer.


   The outfit used by the turtle trapper may be as elaborate or as simple as will suit the personal desires. Outside of the traps (for more information on turtle traps click here) the most essential thing will be a good boat. A light, flat bottom, double end skiff such as fur trappers use would be a good selection. A boat that is steady as often it is necessary to haul a catch of one hundred pounds or more over side and yet one should paddled or poled through weeds, drawn have a boat that is light enough to be over logs, or even make short portages with, as often small ponds adjacent to river or lake will be found good trapping and some means must be had in reaching them. As traps are some times set in four to six feet of water a hook is handy to raise and lower traps. This hook is similar to a gaff hook only the iron is heavier and opening should be about two inches across between point of hook and shank, and set in a handle like a broomstick or a little larger. This hook will be handy to use as a boat hook and handling turtles, as well as handling traps.

   A box or pen in which to keep the turtles. This box can be made of drift boards, poles or any material that may be picked up along the river. This box or pen should be partly submerged in the water as turtles will not do very well when penned up on dry land. A box or pen, say ten feet long, four feet wide and a foot deep is large enough to store a half a ton of turtles and they will keep very nicely for a week or ten days. Turtles should be fed each day.


   As I stated earlier the turtle's food comprises mostly of fish, it is natural that fish would make good bait, but such bait is often hard to procure. The small mesh traps will catch more or less of the dead-bait-eating fish such as dogfish, catfish and mud-cats. A good sized dogfish, say one that would weigh four to six pounds would make enough bait for three or four traps. Simply cut them crosswise in three or four pieces according to size and place in bait can. If such fish are not caught the trapper must get busy with his bait-gun. There are usually plenty of blackbirds, crows, hawks, owls, or perhaps woodchucks in most localities and any of these will make excellent bait. I sometimes think that the above mentioned birds and animals make better bait than the fish as I think the scent carries further than the fish owing to the greater amount of blood. A nice fat woodchuck would make eight or ten baits if cut up in that many pieces, using entrails as well as the flesh. If the trapper is located near a slaughter house, plenty of fresh bloody meat can be secured. Always use fresh bait. Bait the traps night and morning. It is advocated by some that turtles do not feed during the daytime, but if fresh bait is used it will be found that the day catch will nearly equal the night catch.

   Small land turtles and leather backs make fairly good bait; cut off the head with camp axe or hatchet and quarter. This bait is always at hand as they are attracted to the traps as well as the snapping turtle. Always keep a supply of these on hand, alive, to be used when other bait cannot be had.

How and Where to Set Traps

   For convenience sake traps are usually carried in the knockdown, that is the side sticks are removed. On reaching the desired trapping ground the trapper proceeds to set up his traps. I always set up my traps before starting out to place them, although they may be set up on the line as required. Load as many traps in boat as is convenient and start along close to shore. Keep sharp lookout for channels in weeds or lily pads or any place that looks like possible fish runways. These are the hangouts of the turtle. Bait trap, and lower to bottom of river or lake as the case may be; if in a river always face the mouth of trap downstream. This is very important, a trap placed in any other position is just a waste of time. The turtle will come to trap from the downstream direction, the scent of the bait being carried to him by the current and he follows the scent through the water to the trap. The result of a trap being placed in any other position is obvious. The turtle would find a wall of net between him and the bait and they positively will not enter trap on the up-stream side of bait, as when they get on the upstream side there is no scent to attract them in.

   Turtles are not hard to catch, on the contrary they are very easy, it is just a matter of judgment in placing the traps. In trapping a lake use your own judgment in placing traps. For instance, trap should be placed in weeds facing open water or if near inlet or outlet of lake, there will be a current, however slight, it is a current just the same and traps must be placed accordingly. After trap is placed on bottom, take a pole of sufficient length to reach bottom with three or four feet to spare and shove between side stick and trap into the mud bottom firmly. This answers a double purpose: marking location of trap and also to keep trap from rolling. A turtle when caught will, sooner or later, want to come up for air and will naturally start climbing up side of trap. If pole is not used the trap of course will start rolling like a squirrel's wheel, ending up no knowing where. Never pass up an old drift pile or log jam in river or a fallen tree. These are natural haunts for the turtle, and a trap properly placed above these places will insure a good catch.

   Watch your traps closely, if a trap is not productive, take it up and move it to another location. A set should not be condemned, however, if a catch is not made the first day. Let trap stand twenty-four to thirty-six hours before passing judgment on the set.

   When the catch begins to drop off it is time to move. Do not spend time working a caught-out "spot." Make every day count, practice efficiency. It pays in every line of work. Turtle trapping is no exception. Mill ponds are usually very good trapping grounds. The rising and falling of the water does not necessarily hamper the turtle trapper as it does the fur trapper, as traps set in four to six feet of water will stand a rise or fall of two feet without retarding the catch. Lakes large and small are more or less productive in all localities. Do not waste time trying out swift, clear streams with rocky and gravely bottoms; always select warm, slow running streams, muddy bottom with plenty of aquatic vegetation.

Fresh-Water Turtles: a source of meat supply

By H. Walton Clark © 1919

   Among the aquatic food resources of the United States to which but little attention has as yet been given are the several species of edible turtles and terrapins of the rivers and lakes. One species of turtle, the famous and much-sought-after diamond-back terrapin, has indeed long been utilized to the fullest extent consistent with the preservation of the species. The green turtle of the sea has also for a long time been so generally esteemed and extensively fished as to have been brought into actual danger of extinction. It is worthy of note that, while these two species have been regarded as delicacies of a high order, their relatives of the interior waters have been comparatively little utilized, at least under their proper names. It seems quite probable, however, that certain species of fresh-water terrapin have been rather widely used as an illegitimate substitute for the diamond-back terrapin.

The Snapping Turtle

Distribution and Habits

   As a source of food, by far the most important species of the Mississippi Basin is the snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina, known also in different localities and under different conditions as the snapper, mud turtle, and mossback. Its position in the consciousness of the people, the methods of its capture, and the like, are so closely bound up with its natural history that, in order to properly estimate its food status, it is necessary to give in some detail the main facts regarding its habitat and habits.

   In the first place, it has a broad geographic distribution, its range extending from Nova Scotia to the Equator and westward to the Rocky Mountains. It is, therefore, one of the most widely known of turtles; and the New Englander who has migrated to the banks of the Wabash, the Ohio, or the Mississippi, or to the prairies of Illinois, recognizes it at once as an old acquaintance. This wideness of distribution indicates a hardiness and an ability to live under greatly varying conditions.

   Not less important than its wide geographic distribution is its varied habitat. It is found in a great many different situations, in lakes, ponds, rivers, creeks, marshes, and bogs, and often travels overland a considerable distance from water. Only those familiar with the faunas of woodland ponds know the pretty, speckled tortoise; only the travelers along shaded creeks know Blanding's turtle; and to those who dwell afar from the larger lakes and rivers the soft-shell is known, if at all, only through the medium of books or museums. There are few, however, to whom the snapping turtle is a complete stranger.

   In addition to its great variety of habitat, the leisurely habits of the snapper make it familiar. When approached it does not beat a hasty retreat, as do most other animals, but holds its ground against all comers. Many who are fairly familiar with the pond turtles and terrapin know them principally as a sudden splash from a log, and many who visit the sand bars where the soft-shells love to bask know them principally as a streak over the sand, as a splash at the water surface, and as a wake like that made by a big fish. The snapper, however, is the living embodiment of the status quo. He is willing to wait for the closest and most scrutinizing inspection; and, closely gazed upon, his appearance may have much to do with his being used as an article of food. One could not exactly call him handsome; a better statement would be that he looks good enough to eat. His corpulent, bulging body, projecting in rolls from his inadequate shell gives above all else the impression of meatiness. The rough skin, not greatly unlike that of a freshly plucked chicken, and the narrow cartilaginous bridge and small plastron all suggest easy preparation, much edible material, and little waste.

   All the other details about this species, manner of capture, the peculiarities of the market, and, finally, the methods of cooking, are, as will be observed, closely connected with its life history and habits.

Seasons and Methods of Capture

   During the summer the snappers are rather unsocial. They are solitary in habits, the individuals being widely scattered, so that it is difficult to take an accurate census of them. Because of these solitary summer habits, there is, generally speaking, very little fishing for this species in that season. There may, of course, be local exceptions. In general, however, the summer is a dull season for turtles. In summer occasional snappers are picked up while on their migrating trips; a few are now and then caught on set lines; and fishermen sometimes catch them in their seines or in baited hoop nets set for fish.

   During the autumn and early winter the snappers collect in considerable numbers and hibernate in suitable locations. In the vicinity of Muscatine, Iowa, it was stated that a favorite place for turtles to hibernate is in muskrat holes. According to report, as much as 5 tons of turtles have been taken from the various muskrat holes in one season. Our informant also stated that as many as 26 individuals have been found in one muskrat burrow, while at another time 1,420 pounds were obtained in one run. From 500 to 1,000 pounds of turtle were estimated as a recent catch for one day.

   Along the sloughs of the Mississippi they congregate about and under old logs. A specific instance was cited of a fisherman who obtained 20 snappers, weighing from 10 to 20 pounds each, under a log in one of the sloughs of the Mississippi River.

   Along the Illinois River, the Cedar River of Iowa, and, indeed, wherever there are springy places near large bodies of water, the snappers "mud up " for the winter.

   It is from their hibernating places that the greater number of snappers are taken by fishermen or trappers. The methods of capture employed for the various forms of winter quarters, whether muskrat holes, old logs, or springy places, are all, so far as could be learned, very much the same. The implement used is a stout hook, made by bending an iron rod at one end, sharpening the short or hook end, and leaving the other as it is or driving it into a wooden handle to make it better to manipulate during very cold weather. If there is much ice, it is cut and the hook probed or prodded about until a turtle, which feels much like a chunk of wood, is encountered. It is then pulled out by the hook. It is somewhat difficult to land large turtles, although they are benumbed and offer little resistance. The turtle catchers rely upon their hunting instinct to discover the turtles, and when a good place is found many can be taken from it, as indicated in the account given above.

The Fresh-Water Terrapins

   Within the Mississippi Basin the word " terrapin " is either a book name or a term to much of the hard-shelled turtles as find their way to the cook pot.

   Exceedingly few terrapin are used even by the dwellers along the rivers, who are familiar with all sorts of aquatic food. Along the Mississippi one man, an old fisherman who had at one time been a restaurant proprietor and famous for his cookery, said that they were most excellent eating. One of the fish dealers on the Illinois River said that terrapin is as good as the soft-shell, and each when fried is superior to chicken similarly prepared

   The most probable reason for the exceedingly limited use, one might almost say the nonuse, of the terrapin within the Mississippi Basin is the unfamiliarity with them. They rarely stray any distance from considerable bodies of water and are not often seen by the general population. To the frequenters of river and lake shores they are, however, the most commonly seen of turtles.

   Other features that have prevented their coming into use are their relatively small size, 2 pounds being about the average, and the amount and hardness of shell, making the percentage of meat relatively small and difficult to get at. So long as there is a great abundance of other forms of game and fresh food the only reason for resorting to them would be the superior flavor of the flesh, and they would be sought after as luxuries rather than necessities. Their appeal would be to the taste rather than to the satisfaction of hunger.

   That the terrapin is of excellent flavor would appear from the testimony of those who have tried it. As a rule, it inhabits clean waters. The different species of terrapin differ in their food and feeding habits, and doubtless in their flavor, to a corresponding degree.

Methods of Capture

   Because of their habits, the manner of the capture of the terrapin is entirely different from that of the snapper. They do not crowd together in hibernating places during the winter and cannot, therefore, be taken in numbers during that season, as the snappers are. In the summer they are gregarious, crowding together in great numbers on projecting logs and banks. They can be easily taken in traps, a number and variety of which are known along the Illinois River. By simply sinking a box in a place full of snags and brush, a goodly number of terrapin will manage to drop in. A fish dealer reported that one man had a waterproof box sunk in water by weighting it with stones. He visited it daily, removing 30 to 40 turtles. Another form consisted simply of a' box with an inclined board for a slide leading up to it. The turtles climbing up the slide to bask crowded the end ones into the box. A still more complicated form had the slide so placed on a pivot that if one or more turtles got beyond the pivot and overbalanced the lower end they were clumped into the box.

   A method used in trapping the " slider," a species of terrapin in the southeastern part of the United States, doubtless would also prove efficacious. A projecting log is chosen and a heavily leaded net placed entirely around it, except at the lower or entering end. The turtles climbing up on the log to bask keep pushing the foremost one off, and, if anyone approaches, all but one or a few at the lower or entering end of the log drop into the net. By this means great numbers can readily be taken.

The Soft-Shell Turtles

   Among the possible aquatic resources of the country an important place is occupied by the soft-shell turtles, of which there are two common species, the spiny, or common, soft-shell, and the smooth soft-shell, or leatherback. These turtles are generally northern in their distribution. They are confined chiefly to the larger streams and lakes and are therefore rather unfamiliar objects to the general population. They never stray far from the water's edge and are very timid in disposition, taking to the water with exceeding swiftness when alarmed, so that even those who spend a great deal of time along rivers and lakes rarely get a very good view of uncaptured specimens. They are gregarious, assembling in considerable numbers on banks and sand bars.

Significance as Food

   The soft-shell is regarded as the most delicious of turtles. It is, indeed, a species of soft-shell turtle which is reared in Japan, much as the diamond-back terrapin is beginning to be raised in this country.

   Numbers are incidentally caught by various forms of fishermen's gear, such as set lines, seines, and hoop nets, especially baited " fiddler nets " (the nets used to catch channel catfish) . These incidentally caught turtles are not usually allowed to get beyond the fisherman who catches them; they are consumed mostly in the immediate locality where caught. In the small towns along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers they are the favorite food turtles.

   The soft-shells are prized, not only for soup, but for frying; and for this purpose the younger individuals, weighing from 1 to 1½ pounds, are preferred. In making soup the shell may either be used or discarded.

   The soft-shell loves the clear water over sandy bottoms and prefers a good current. Its principal food, to judge from a few specimens examined, consists of crayfishes. Both its habits and habitat are therefore conducive to an excellent flavor of flesh.

Methods of Capture

   On account of their habits, the soft-shells cannot be taken in quantities by the methods used for either the snapper or terrapin. They are gregarious, like the terrapin, but, as a general thing, they do not seek elevated positions in basking, any good sand bar proving satisfactory. They would not drop in numbers into boxes, and they do not " mud up " in large numbers, as do the snappers during the winter. They are rather hard to get in an ordinary seine. During the summer of 1907 several hundred were seen basking on one of the sand bars of the upper Mississippi not far below St. Paul. The sand bar was surrounded by a long net, with the expectation of bagging several barrels of turtles. These all took to the water and the net was drawn in. Only two turtles were obtained, the net having passed over the others, which had, no doubt, simply flattened down close to the bottom.

   As previously stated, most of the soft-shells are captured incidentally on set lines or in hoop nets operated for fish. They can readily be caught in baited hoop nets, and one fisherman said that it was easier to get them, when desired, than it was to capture snappers. The nets must be visited at least every 12 hours, especially in warm weather, as the imprisoned turtles soon drown. Prof. Jacob Reighard in Ward and Whipple's " Fresh-water Biology," gives the following description of a turtle net :

   Turtles are best taken in a turtle net, which is a form of fyke net. It should be of heavy twine and coarse mesh and, if it is desired to keep the turtles alive, should be modified as follows : The terminal section of the pot is made cylindrical or the whole pot may be made with square hoops. A circular opening is cut in the upper side of the terminal section of the pot and to this is attached the lower end of a cylinder of netting which extends to the water's surface. The upper end of this cylinder is attached to an opening cut in one side of a wooden box, provided on the opposite side with a hinged lid fastened with a hasp. The box is supported at the surface of the water on poles set in the bottom. When turtles reach the terminal section of the pot, they are able to enter the box through the cylinder of netting and are thereby saved from drowning, which would ensue if they could not reach the air. They may be, removed through the lid at the convenience of the collector.

Preparation of Turtles for the Table

Killing the Turtle

   Notwithstanding the formidable appearance offered by the shell, the killing and dressing of turtles is a comparatively easy matter, and the men at the fish markets soon become expert at it and can kill and clean them with surprising rapidity. The first step is to get the animal to protrude its head. In the case of the snapper, this is easily accomplished by presenting to its head a stick of suitable size for the reptile to snap. It takes tenacious hold, and the head can readily be pulled out. The heads of the other species may be made to protrude by applying pressure, as with the foot, to the back or upper part of the shell. After the neck is well stretched out the turtle can readily be decapitated. At fish markets, where many turtles are dressed, the cleaners usually have a killing plank with a sharpened spike driven through at an angle, and the spike is thrust through the chin during the process of stretching.

   Once beheaded, a sharp knife is run around the edges of the skin where it joins the shell and the skin pulled back over the legs to the feet, which are then disjointed. The lower part of the shell or plastron is then removed by cutting through the bridges which join the upper and lower shells, cutting close to the lower part of the shell. With snappers and soft-shells, in which the bridges are rather soft and cartilaginous, this can be done with a sharp knife. With the terrapin the bridge may be cut with a hatchet or saw. Having cut the bridges, the plastron or under shell may be readily removed by inserting a sharp knife just under it and lifting it off. This done, the entrails may be extracted with very little trouble, and the four quarters easily taken out from the carapace or upper shell. If one wishes to save the tenderloin in the upper part or "ceiling" of the carapace, the ribs may be cut with a hatchet. To the reader this may appear to be a lengthy and complicated process; but, as stated above, it is a simpler process than killing, plucking, and dressing a chicken.

   It need hardly be said that each has his own method as regards the smaller details. Some cut off the feet before skinning; others skin down to the feet and then disjoint. Some even cut off the feet before decapitation, but this is unnecessarily cruel. The smaller turtles and terrapin are often killed by dropping the living animal into boiling water just as lobsters and crayfishes are killed. This is a convenient method and not especially cruel, as death is practically instantaneous. With a large kettle the same method might be used for the soft-shell and snapper.


   Doubtless one reason for the general nonuse of turtles for food is the lack of knowledge as to just how to prepare them for the table and the lack of experience with turtles properly cooked. To meet this deficiency, the following recipes, which have been obtained from various available sources, are offered. A few have been gleaned from cookbooks, but most of them have been procured from persons noted locally for their preparation of turtles.

   These recipes apply especially to the snapper, which is the great soup turtle of the Mississippi Basin. 'They could, doubtless, be applied to terrapin and soft-shell also, as they are as good for soups as the snapper.

   In making soups, cook the turtle only until the bones leave the flesh. Many cook too long, which makes the flesh stringy.

Turtle Vegetable Soup

   A favorite way to cook snapper is to make the soup like old-fashioned beef soup, with any assortment of vegetables desired, with the turtle meat cut up into small pieces.

Turtle Chowder

  •  One-half pound turtle meat

  •  2 medium-sized potatoes.

  •  3 onions,

  •  3 carrots,

  •  any other vegetables wanted, as parsley, all diced into the pot

  •  add ¾ pound of salt pork diced

  •  1 teaspoonful pepper

  •  1 level teaspoonful of butter

   Cook about 2 hours over a slow fire. This is fine, a regular turtle chowder. With soft-shell turtle cut up the shell also, and cook for 4 hours.

Soft-shell Turtle Soup

   Use turtle meat same as for beef soup, adding a slice of bacon and onion to modify the flavor. (Soft-shell turtle meat is also good with noodles.)

Turtle Soup & La Creole

   This is the ancient recipe for turtle soup, and it is safe to say that when once eaten after this delightful way no other will seem quite so savory.

  •  Cut the turtle meat into small pieces.

  •  Let it brown in a pot with a little lard

  •  Cut up several onions

  •  a slice of ham

  •  a little garlic

   Stir and mix with the turtle meat. Then let the mixture brown well. Put in some flour and mix, pour a quantity of the soup stock into the pot, let it cool, and add a knee joint of veal. Let it simmer for an hour, then put in some thyme, laurel leaf, parsley, shallots, and when everything is cooked add more parsley and a couple of slices of lemon chopped fine.

Fried Turtle

   Although the turtles generally preferred for frying are medium-sized softshells weighing from l ½ to 3 pounds, many like fried snapper. For frying, the younger and more tender snappers are to be preferred, although the older ones can be used by cooking correspondingly longer.

Fried Turtle

   Cut the turtle meat into small pieces, add salt and pepper, roll in flour, and fry in one-half lard and one-half butter until brown, then add a little water, cover up, and steam until done (about ½ hour).

Fried Turtle

   Fry as above; when browned add some catsup, a few mixed spices, a glass of wine, or, in lieu of this, 2 tablespoonfuls of vinegar and a little water; cover, and steam until done (about ½ hour).

Fried Turtle

   Some cooks prefer to fry dry, without steam; in this case one must cook slowly, and of course old turtles must be cooked longer than young ones.

Fried Turtle

   Simply parboil the turtle meat and fry in butter.

Fried Turtle

   Put the turtle meat into salt water for a short time, remove and wipe dry, sprinkle with corn meal, and fry in hot grease, or use butter, salt, and pepper, and thicken with barley. (The person who furnished this recipe generally preferred snapper to other turtles, and had this species in mind.)

Fried Snapper

   Put the turtle meat into salt water overnight, take out, wipe dry, sprinkle with flour, and fry in plenty of grease. Fry slowly until brown. This is said to be better than fried chicken. For this old turtles are said to be as good as young.

Turtle Cutlet

   Take lean turtle meat, pound until like hamburger steak, dip into egg, roll in meal, and fry in hot fat. This tastes like veal cutlet.

Simmered Turtle

   Take 1 pound turtle meat, wash, cut into cubes, brown in fat (lard or butter) with 1 large or 2 medium-sized onions, simmer until tender, add Chili pepper while simmering. To serve, pour over boiled rice.

Curry of Turtle

   Take 1 pound of turtle meat, brown as above, with 1 large or 2 medium-sized onions. Put into the pot 1 medium-sized potato, 1 carrot, the onions which have been cooked with the turtle, a small piece of parsley, ½ teaspoonful of pepper, 1 teaspoonful of salt, and ½ teaspoonful of curry powder. Add the browned turtle meat to the mixture in the pot and let simmer until tender. Make molds by hollowing out cups of boiled rice and serve in the molds. This tastes like curry of chicken or curry of veal.

Turtle Sausage

   Cook 2 pounds of turtle meat until tender, run through a food chopper, add 2 eggs, drop into hot fat or fry right off the spoon until brown.

Fresh-Water Turtles: a Source of Meat Supply © 1919

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