I used to eat turtles.
If I squint and think hard, I can still conjure the taste in my mouth.
See, my mother was born into post-War working class Philadelphia. She grew up in a house where beef stew was a three-day affair. So she always had this yearning to live the aristocratic life. And in the Philadelphia of the day that meant one thing: Bookbinder's.
Bookbinder's was / is a restaurant whose history dates back to the 1860's. Its heyday was in the Gilded Age, and it prided itself on its seafood and steaks. Today it prides itself on it's $50 entrees.
Now, nothing against Philadelphia -- I happen to love the city very much; and nothing against seafood -- it's health benefits are known the world over. But putting the two together: Philadelphia and seafood. Hmm.
Have you seen the Delaware River?
This must be where the turtles come in.
See, Bookbinder's is also known for its exquisite sherry-drop soup: the Red Snapper. And, make no mistake, by 'red snapper' we're talking about turtle (the 'red' in the title is analogous to 'red' [Manhattan] versus 'white' [New England] clam chowder). This is a soup prepared in a five-hour window of ritual. From the turtle meat simmering in beef broth, to the waiter serving the bowl accompanied by a glass of sherry [eww...], this soup reeks of aristocratic boredom.
My mom loved it, though.
So I remember as a kid, my mother and father dressed me up in some outrageous late '70s velvet suit and took me to Walnut Street for an evening at Bookbinder's. The only thing I remember was the Snapper soup. And, yeah, it pretty much tasted like you'd think a turtle would taste. Sort of a pungent flavor with a lamb-like texture. Not so much 'fishy' as perhaps 'swimmy'.
Yup. Nothing says 'yum' like an aggressive reptile boiled in a stew.
I've seen this stuff in cans at the grocery store and have actually been tempted to buy it -- not to eat, but just to cook up and smell to see if my childhood memories of the stuff were accurate. But I've got an aquatic turtle by the name of Hermes who lives in an aquarium in the corner of the kitchen.
I think he'd be disturbed by the smell.