1940s Archive

Food Flashes

Originally Published March 1946

The terrapin is the unchallenged star of Maryland's cuisine, the diamond-back terrapin, not that inferior member with the golden stripe. No old-time state banquet menu was ever complete without the diamondback's presence. And terrapin's aristocratic presence involves more problems of menu ritual than ever revolved around the seating arrangement of an official dinner in the White House.

Even in Baltimore there are various schools of thought on the terrapin's preparation for there is never just one way of preparing a “dish-of-dishes.” There's the “wine-in-sauce” crowd. Even here is division for some insist on Madeira, some demand sherry. There's the “purist” school which makes the sauce of pure butter and serves the wine in the glass, to sip as you will. The purists claim any young diamond-back terrapin, that is the “cow,” of course, with her belly full of eggs, can stand firmly on her own legs without any assistance from wine. The wine adherents say no. It is their theory that terrapin has its very being in the wine. They admit that the flesh of the diamondback gives its substance, something for the teeth to touch, but the sherry gives the flavor. And in Philadelphia, had you heard, they put terrapin into a cream sauce. Tsch! tsch! That's the Baltimoreans giving the idea the raspberry.

Suppose you have a pair of terrapins, alive and kicking. “Cows,” let's hope, as their meat is more tender than that of the bulls and at this season of the year they carry the eggs which are considered a delicacy. Drop the terrapin, head first, into boiling water for maybe two minutes, or until the outer skin and toe-nails can be removed. Then into fresh boiling salted water to boil until the shells part easily and the leg flesh becomes tender. You can tell when, as the portion of the joint between the upper and lower shells shows a ragged break at the joining.

Now lay your terrapins on their backs, remove lower shells, and let cool so you can handle the meat. When cool, remove lungs, sand bag, bladder, entrails, discard the gall sack imbedded in the liver, and be careful, don't break the darned thing or all is runied. Save the liquid in the upper shell to serve with the meat. Save the eggs and the pieces of liver. Cut the meat into medium pieces about half an inch long and remove the larger bones. Put into a double boiler to heat with the liquid taken from the shell. Cover with water and cook about one and one-half hours or until tender and the stock is reduced by half.

The final dish can be made in the kitchen, but if you would be faithful to the ritual, it will be prepared in a chafing dish at the table. Place meat and terrapin eggs in chafing dish with one-fourth pound of butter for two terrapins and let melt down together. That's one way. Another way is to let the butter first come to a froth and a fume, then in with the meat. Now add a pinch of cayenne. There's no trick to the sauce as most people think. The butter simply releases the subtle essences in the flesh of the turtle and miraculously they blend—bringing to aging epicures youth's keenness of appetite.

Appetite whetted for a terrapin dinner? If you live in New York City you can buy the live critters at Joseph Apicella and Sons, 82 Bayard Street, but call first; terrapin isn't an everyday item. This month, however, they come with more or less regularity from Maryland and Virginia. Ask for the diamondback although some say the golden stripes are as fine. The goldens are larger and if used, the coarse meat should be discarded.

The diamondback is a lovely creature with the look of antiquity. Measuring across the under ivory shell, a market terrapin will run six to seven inches in length which means about nine years of age. And how much do they cost? About $72 a dozen.

It's an easier matter to buy your terrapin made to order. You can get it through Ellen Grey, 800 Madison Avenue, or Wynne and Treanor, 712 Madison Avenue. Order it Philadelphia or Maryland style. Moore and Company, the turtle-soup specialists of 137 Beekman Street, make terrapin stews and will ship the stew by express within one hundred miles of New York. Canned terrapin is also aailable from Moore's and can be shipped anywhere, ten-ounce tins, one portion, seven pieces of meat, $2.50, postage prepaid.

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