Terrapin measuring six inches or more across the bottom shell are called "counts." The largest do not exceed ten inches; the average size is seven inches, and weight three to five pounds. The counts vary in price from seventeen to eighty dollars a dozen, according to size and weight.
The terrapin which are most esteemed, and which command the highest price, are the "Diamond Back," from the Chesapeake Bay. Probably it is the wild celery of this region which gives the especially prized flavor to the terrapin as well as to the Canvasback ducks taken there. Good terrapin, however, are taken in Long Island waters and all along the sea-coast.
Terrapin burrow in the mud as soon as cold weather approaches and remain there until May, during which time they grow fat. They are caught during their season of hibernation, and are kept in cool, dark places packed in sea grass until wanted; the season for eating them being from December to April. Terrapin taken during the summer are rank in taste and un-fit for food, and are confined in pens and fed on celery.
The female terrapin is the most prized on account of its eggs, terrapin-eggs, as served in the stew, being considered a great delicacy.
The Maryland style of cooking terrapin is one of the most esteemed. A simple way is that of the Southern negro, who places the "bird," as he calls it, over hot coals or in the oven until cooked, when the under shell comes off, and, removing only the gall, he eats the whole of the contents from the inverted upper shell, seasoning with butter, pepper, and salt. Before hibernating, the terrapin empties the stomach and is consequently clean, but a fastidious taste prefers to have the terrapin thoroughly washed, and the entrails and lights as well as the gall-sack removed.
It is of the greatest importance that the gall should be very carefully removed, for, if the sack be punctured or in any way injured, so that the liquid touches the liver or meat, its disagreeable bitter taste will infect the entire dish.
Drop the live terrapin into hot water, and let it remain until the skin can be removed from the head and feet. Then remove, wash in several changes of water, take off the skin from the head and feet by rubbing it with a cloth, and return it to fresh scalding water to cook until tender. This is shown by pressing the feet between the fingers, They should be done in forty-five minutes to an hour. If a longer time is required, the terrapin is probably not a good one, and the meat will be stringy. Remove as soon as tender. When cold, cut off the nails, remove the shells, take out very carefully the gall-sack from the liver, the entrails, lights, heart, head, tail and white muscles. Separate the pieces at the joints, divide the meat into pieces an inch and a half long, and do not break the bones. Place the meat, cut into pieces, the terrapin eggs and the liver in a pan, cover with water, and boil again until the meat is ready to drop from the bones.
Mash the yolks of eight hard-boiled eggs and mix them with two tablespoonfuls of best butter, rubbing them to a smooth paste. Put a pint of cream in a double boiler; when it is scalded, stir in the egg and butter until smooth; season with salt, white and cayenne pepper, a dash of nutmeg and allspice. Add a quart of terrapin prepared as directed above, and simmer for ten minutes, or until the terrapin is well heated. Just at the moment of serving add two tablespoonfuls of sherry or madeira; serve very hot. Terrapin is often served in individual metal cups made for the purpose, so as to insure its being hot; but with care to have all the dishes hot, the stew need not be allowed to get cold when served in ordinary deep plates.
Put in a saucepan one quart of terrapin (prepared as directed, page 312), a half pint of cream, and a tablespoonful of best butter. Let it cook a few minutes; then draw it aside, and add the yolks of five eggs beaten with a half pint of cream. Stir until the eggs are thickened; but do not let it boil, or it will curdle. Season with salt, white pepper and paprica. At the moment of serving, add two tablespoonfuls of sherry. Like all Newburg dishes this must be prepared only just in time to serve, or it will curdle.
Dip the skinned frogs' legs in milk; sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roll them in flour. Immerse in smoking hot fat until cooked to a delicate color. Serve on a napkin.
Saute the skinned frogs' legs in butter; cook some fresh mushrooms in the pan at the same time if convenient. Place on a hot dish with the mushrooms, and pour over them a Poulette sauce (see page 280).