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Turtle Soup


This image from Life Magazine disturbs me. I guess because it looks like the shot is set up like giving a dying solider a last drink of water. That it is part of a story on making turtle soup, I guess it probably didn’t bother people in 1947.

….Though the story it draws on does weirdly switch from saying the conditions for the turtles aren’t great and then giving recipes. So not sure what to make of this entirely.

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  • Malaclypse

    If I’m reading the tiny tiny text correctly, it did bother people in 1947.

    But I don’t understand the logic of “Because inflation has increased the number of American gourmets…”

    • The next page gives a turtle soup recipe. Reading the whole article, it is this weird combination of thinking the conditions of the turtles aren’t real great and, hey! they are tasty!!

      • How is this different from non-vegetarian activists’ pressure on the current meat processing industry through shaming companies like MdD?

      • Trying to appeal to a large audience?

    • rea

      Pesumably, inflation had increased the number of American gourmets because wages were higher. Remember, in ’47 the country had gone through a period of severe deflation, followed by a period of wage and price controls.

      • Malaclypse

        Pesumably, inflation had increased the number of American gourmets because wages were higher.

        But inflation would also raise the price of food. I mean, you would not say that inflation gets people to buy Cadillacs rather than Chevrolets. You would not say that inflation increases the number of people who can afford air conditioning, or dishwashers, or larger houses…

      • Richard

        Inflation didn’t increase the number of gourmets. Economic prosperity did.

    • BKP

      I was wondering that too. Maybe someone around here who is keen on economic history can fill us in on shifting definitions of inflation.

    • mpowell

      How hard is this? People don’t know shit about economics now, they didn’t know shit back then. I don’t know why Life magazine would be an exception. I’m not sure the president knows shit about economics.

      • LeeEsq

        This is the most likely explanation.

  • c u n d gulag

    A guy getting ready to make turtle soup?

    I was hoping it was a photo showing how Dr. Kevorkian had slipped past Liz and her Mom and was administering his signature “Morte-atini” to a snoring Dick Cheney.

  • SEK

    It’s foie gras for turtles. That’s a promotion! Wait, never mind …

  • Hogan

    Apparently it’s even harder being a Mock Turtle.

    ‘I couldn’t afford to learn it.’ said the Mock Turtle with a sigh. ‘I only took the regular course.’

    ‘What was that?’ inquired Alice.

    ‘Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,’ the Mock Turtle replied; ‘and then the different branches of Arithmetic — Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.’

    ‘I never heard of “Uglification,”’ Alice ventured to say. ‘What is it?’

    The Gryphon lifted up both its paws in surprise. ‘What! Never heard of uglifying!’ it exclaimed. ‘You know what to beautify is, I suppose?’

    ‘Yes,’ said Alice doubtfully: ‘it means — to — make — anything — prettier.’

    ‘Well, then,’ the Gryphon went on, ‘if you don’t know what to uglify is, you are a simpleton.’

    Alice did not feel encouraged to ask any more questions about it, so she turned to the Mock Turtle, and said ‘What else had you to learn?’

    ‘Well, there was Mystery,’ the Mock Turtle replied, counting off the subjects on his flappers, ‘— Mystery, ancient and modern, with Seaography: then Drawling — the Drawling-master was an old conger-eel, that used to come once a week: he taught us Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils.’

    ‘What was that like?’ said Alice.

    ‘Well, I can’t show it you myself,’ the Mock Turtle said: ‘I’m too stiff. And the Gryphon never learnt it.’

    ‘Hadn’t time,’ said the Gryphon: ‘I went to the Classics master, though. He was an old crab, he was.’

    ‘I never went to him,’ the Mock Turtle said with a sigh: ‘he taught Laughing and Grief, they used to say.’

    ‘So he did, so he did,’ said the Gryphon, sighing in his turn; and both creatures hid their faces in their paws.

  • Green turtles are a stressed species (if they aren’t already endangered) so here’s how to feel about this:


  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    When I was growing up, my family owned on old translation of Escoffier, the most fascinating and bizarre recipe in which was the one for turtle soup, which had elaborate instructions for slaughtering the turtle, including the admonition that, when obtaining a turtle, one should, “let it be very fleshy and full of life.”

    • I’m actually at the very beginning of researching an article-length project on turtle soup, so this is useful.

      • Personally, as a former cook and chef of considerable experience, I have always wondered what it tasted like. Reading through period literature and cookbooks implies it must have been truly remarkable.

        Naturally, the species will never recover sufficiently to allow any ethical person to find out, but I still wonder.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          Probably the closest (relatively) sustainable food item is the snapper soup–made from snapping turtles–which can be found in the Mid-Atlantic states. I’ve had it a couple times. It’s okay. It bears a certain resemblance to oxtail soup in flavor (and, presumably, mock turtle soup).

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        I just noticed that that Escoffier recipe suggests that it’s easier to buy the soup than make it (if you read the recipe you’ll see why) and recomments that one purchase the soup from Moore & Co. in NYC…the very business featured in the LIFE spread above. The Escoffier was published in 1941, when presumably there was less call for luxury items like turtle soup than there would be toward the end of the decade.

        I wonder when Moore & Co. finally went out of the turtle soup business.

        • Bill Murray

          Moore and Company seem to have moved the turtle soup business to a subsidiary called Ancora in 1954. http://www.trademarkia.com/ancora-71662243.html

          Moore and Company may also have been involved in the Bon Vivant botulism case in 1971. At least Bon Vivant changed their name to Moore and Co. and the plant that had the botulism contaminated soup was in Newark, where the turtle soup Moore and Co. were located


          • Arno Neemers

            It is indeed the same Moore & Co., founded in 1863 and put out of business by the botulism scandal. As for the current owner of the “Moore & Co.” name, it’s long since lapsed, as has “Bon Vivant”.

            At least some rights went to Ferrara Foods and Confections, though, now known as Ferrara Bakery. They’re also based in New York, and the trademark “The King of Soups” shows transfer from Moore and Co. to Ferrara, before it was cancelled in 2001.

    • An old friend and employer of mine used to console herself, when she felt weary of the human race, with a book on ancient civilizations that included a recipe for small children.

  • ChristianPinko

    The first thing I thought of when I saw this post was the MST3K short “Catching Trouble,” in which this guy named Russ and his American Indian assistant go out into the Everglades to catch animals for a zoo. Now, given that he was capturing animals for a zoo, it stands to reason that he didn’t want to hurt the creatures. But the whole short had this total “white man triumphs over nature” vibe to it, which Joel and the ‘bots ruthlessly mocked (cheering for the snake and the mountain lion to savage Russ). So I guess that back then, even when people weren’t actively hostile to animals, they still thought of them as something to be defeated. The past is a different country, is what I’m saying.

    • I may need to watch that.

    • Srynerson

      I remember that short from MST3K. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it has been included in any of the DVD releases so far. However, since “Catching Trouble” was really sort of a knockoff of the film Bring ‘Em Back Alive, Erik could watch that for a similar “great white hunter” vibe, albeit without MST3K’s humorous criticism of the film.

  • norbizness

    You SUCK, Truman!

  • arthur

    In the age of sail, turtles were an excellent source of fresh meat for sailors. Pick up a few on some tropical island, stack them on their backs as shown, and they stay alive for weeks or longer at sea without food or needing much space. Fresh meat and soup whenever you want it!

    • Er, that’s tortoises. Tortoises are a land animal. The turtle of turtle soup is a sea turtle. The Green Sea Turtle I think.

      You are correct about the tortoises, though, ships really did carry them strapped to the deck as food.

      • There is a long history of using both land and sea turtles in soup.

  • Bart

    I hope the guy in the suit (!) was giving the turtles a good stiff drink.

  • encephalopath

    I immediately assumed the turtle was being water boarded.

  • Morbo
  • arawis

    It reminds more of a concentration camp photo. The stacked bodies are all too familiar.

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