Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

turtle a name which can be used loosely of all the four-limbed reptiles in the order Chelonia, but is best reserved for the aquatic members of the order (tortoise being the preferred name for those which live on dry land). Of the aquatic turtles, the marine species are described under sea turtles, while the present entry is devoted to freshwater turtles and the general question of turtle cookery.

Turtles which live in fresh or brackish water occur in and are eaten in most regions of the world. They are commonly grouped into categories such as the following:

  • Snapping turtles, or snappers, which have a reputation for being dangerous to handle casually; they snap and bite—indeed the largest of all, the so-called alligator snapper, which weighs up to 100 kg (225 lb), can easily snap through a broom handle. These turtles probably account for about half the turtle consumption in the eastern USA. The common snapping turtle in the USA is Chelydra serpentina.

  • Soft-shelled turtles, whose shells are leathery and which have long soft snouts. They can remain under water for a long time. They too need to be handled with care.

  • Terrapin, especially diamondback terrapin, Malaclemys terrapin. This terrapin and its eggs have been greatly prized as delicacies in the USA and there was a time when the species was in danger of becoming extinct, although it has since been revived to form an adequately large population, and is farmed.