Hunting for a Bowl of Turtle Soup

Photo: Matt Taylor-Gross/Courtesy of Saveur

Our friends at Saveur magazine have a fascinating and fun story in their November issue—on a topic about which I'm betting not many of us are too familiar: turtle soup.

The story has rich history, great characters, and (because it's Saveur) delicious food. Best of all—and the reason I'm recommending the story to you all—it has hunting. The title is "What Ever Happened to Turtle Soup?" and the writer, Jack Hitt, sets out to answer that very question. Turtle soups, it turns out, has deep roots in America's culinary history. Hitt writes:

For centuries, the flavor was legendary, and, really, nothing said American democracy like turtle. The poor man could often find a few slow-moving specimens hanging out at the backyard well, even as the privileged man sought out its refined flavor. Two days after voting for independence in Philadelphia, on July 4, 1776, John Adams celebrated with a bowl of turtle soup; when the war was over, George Washington met with his officers at Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan for a farewell frolic; and Lincoln celebrated his second inaugural with terrapin stew.

My favorite part of the story, though, are the scenes in which Hitt joins a party of “cooter” (i.e. turtle) hunters in rural Virginia. Turtle hunting sounds a bit like catfish noodling, actually. The hunters enter a river and wade upstream, searching for muskrat dens where turtles like to hide, and then...

When you find one, Bud explained, put all five fingertips together to form your hand into a probing cone because “that way, the cooter can nick you but he can't really bite your finger.” A snapping turtle's shell is smooth on the edge but a bit serrated at the back end, and with that knowledge you can locate the tail, which you grab—that is, if you haven't encountered the head already.

Photo: Matt Taylor-Gross/Courtesy of Saveur

I'm not going to give away any more of the story. You’ll have to read for yourself to learn how the hunt goes.

And should you venture on your own cooter hunt any time soon, and come home with a limit, head back to Saveur to find a recipe for what we all now know is an American classic: turtle soup.