bean <turtle> soup

My Fast and Fancy cookbook of 1959 had a recipe for Bean Turtle Soup that was so simple, and yet so good it is almost indescribable. It was more than just something to eat; it was something to savor, to sip slowly like a fine wine, and to talk about while you were eating it—and afterwards.

It was merely the combination of two canned soups, plus some sherry and a boiled egg garnish. The component cans were (guess what!) bean soup and turtle soup. Bean soup is still easily found in supermarkets. But turtle soup* is not—at least not the kind I used to get when I first made Bean Turtle Soup.

Turtle soup became popular in the 19th century during the Victorian. It was made from the green cartilage that lines the shell of the turtle, as well as some of the turtle meat, too, which gave it a particularly gelatinous texture. It was imported, expensive, and only for the wealthy.

This led inevitably to the "Mock" variety appearing in the early 1800’s, for which there are now hundreds of versions, most of them not very good (for this preparation). Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland featured the Mock Turtle, who claimed that at one time he had been a real turtle.

My version, below, is based on my remembrances of the canned Green Turtle Soup I used to buy. Needless to say, it is almost as good, especially when added to the bean soup and sherry. It is not a mockery of turtle soup, it is an emulation.

<turtle> soup
  • 1 lb smoked ham hocks or pork shanks
  • 1 (10½-oz) can condensed beef or 10½ oz homemade consommé
  • 1 can water
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh leaf thyme
  • ¼ tsp fresh ground pepper

Add all ingredients to a stew pot and simmer for 1½ hours, until the meat separates from the bones. Remove the meat from the liquid and let cool. Strain the liquid, return it to the pot, and raise the heat to reduce it to about 2 cups.

Remove the tenderized skin and meat from the ham hocks, discard the bones, and save the meat for another dish. Dice the gelatinous skin and return to the liquid in the pan.

Bean <turtle> soup
  • 1 can condensed black bean soup
  • 1 can-full <turtle> soup
  • ½ cup sherry
  • 1 boiled egg, sliced thin

Separate the <turtle> meat from the soup and divide it evenly among the soup bowls. Place the black bean soup in a saucepan over low heat and gradually stir in the “turtle” soup liquid until the mixture is completely smooth. Just before serving, add the sherry, stir it in well, bring to a boil, and pour over the “turtle” meat. Garnish each bowl with the egg slices.

Serves 2.