This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
Half a dozen great turtles in the United States alone give their tender flesh to epicures, and minister to aldermanic amptitude. These all come out of the sea, and the chief of them is he of the green tint. A salt water turtle, weighing 500 pounds, was captured at the mouth of the Spur-wink Rtver, in Maine, by two brothers named Jordan. It seems the monster got entangled in the nets these men had set, and they fastened to the turtle and towed him ashore. Monday they sold him to Captain Howard Knowlton, for his garden at Peaks' Island. The price paid for the turtle was $50. So broad is the shell of this monster, that four boys found room to stand thereon, and the turtle was strong enough to crawl along with this load.
While the steamer Flora Temple, of Jacksonville, Fla., was cruising near the snapper banks yesterday about fifteen miles off shore, Captain Montcalm Broward observed an immense black object floating on the surface of the water. Upon approaching it he discovered that it was an immense turtle of some sort, which was lazily sleeping on the surface of the water. The captain secured a harpoon, and when near enough he dexterously threw the weapon and succeeded in fixing it firmly in the back of the monster. It was found impossible to raise this mountain of flesh to the deck of the boat, so the captain attached a hawser to the harpoon and, taking it in tow, brought it up to the city, arriving at Decodes' woodyard about 5 o'clock, when the huge object was hauled out upon the shore, where its great size soon attracted a large crowd that gazed with wonder upon the strange visitor. The weight of the captain's catch was variously estimated to be from 1000 to 1,500 pounds. It measured across the anterior limbs fully eight feet two inches, was seven feet two inches from the end Of the nose to the tip of the tail, and perhaps eight feet in circumference.
The captain called his catch a tortoise, but the News-Herald man identified it as a peculiarly splendid specimen of the trunk or leathery turtle (Sphargis coriacea.) This great sea denizen inhabits the Gulf stream along the Atlantic shores and elsewhere. It does not have a shell, but is covered with a leathery skin, with seven longitudinal ridges. It is the largest of the turtle tribe.
The flesh of the turtle is called "Barbadoes beef" in the West Indies. Turtle steaks and turtle fins are favorite breakfast dishes in the Antilles.
There are many ways of cooking turtles in the Bahamas, where they are largely caught. The favorite plan is to make the bulk of the flesh into a kind of hash, well doctored with port and other wines, and then to serve it up in the shell covered with crust, so that it looks like a kind of meat pie. This is called "baked turtle".
The turtle is killed by cutting off the head, hung up by the hind flippers to bleed, then lowered into a ketfle of boiling water and parboiled, if convenient, but if not, can be cut up raw, as it is done in the New Orleans fish markets, where turtle is sold in cuts as wanted like any other raw meat. The object of scalding is to make the shell separate easily and allow the outer skin to be peeled from the fins. When opened the gall bladder and intestines are taken out and thrown away, the eggs, if any, saved, and the green fat found under the shells is saved separately, the turtle meat allowed for the soup, and the chopped up shells are then put on to boil in water. In another boiler is made the same preparation as for espagnole (which see) of fried slices of ham, veal, onions and other vegetables, spices and herbs in butter, brown roux added, and veal or beef broth and the turtle broth, which are all then allowed to simmer slowly for some time; the roux of butter and flour having thickened the soup, it requires stirring and care to prevent burning.
The remaining operation is to strain the soup from the mixed ingredients, skim off the fat, put in the turtle meat cut in pieces, the turtle eggs, pieces of green fat, salt and cayenne, and madeira or sherry, and little lemon juice.