Cooter, or turtle, soups are of three kinds: a rich turtle stock thickened with roux, a clear broth filled with floating pieces of the white flesh, and a thick chowder enriched with cream, wine, and eggs. All three follow the West Indian model, popular long before Carolina was settled, with hot pepper as seasoning. Cooter is from a West African word, kuta, for turtle. Recipes for turtle soup mean sea turtles. In the late 18th century Charleston’s
The terrapin is the turtle of our brackish waters. Sometimes called diamondback, it is the most common turtle found in soups. Farther inland, above the saltwater line, chicken turtles, sliders, and snappers are all prized for their flavor by river folk. No matter which species is used, the female full of eggs is preferred for soups. The following soup is from Orangeburg’s Choice Recipes of 1948. Though Orangeburg, 70 miles inland, was never rice-growing country, it sits on the edge of one of the largest virgin cypress swamps in the world. A few people still grow small plots of rice for personal consumption in the low-lying corners of fields that abut those swamps. The lack of red pepper is geographical: away from the African influence of the coastal plantations, the Sandlapper palate is never as fiery.
Select a large, live, female terrapin—the rice fields variety being the best. Cut off head and remove shell. Dress by removing skin, intestines, and sand bag. Cut meat into cubes and place together with the eggs from the terrapin into a large pot. Add
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