The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
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Turtles and Terrapins
At last, clarification for the much vexed question, "what do you MEAN it's illegal to eat turtle or turtle soup?!"
Okay, I mean it's mostly illegal (and certainly illegal in the U.S.) to eat the protected species of sea turtles that are traditionally used to make the elegant turtle soup described in the SoupTale about Lady Curzon and seen or mentioned in movies as diverse as Babette's Feast, Age of Innocence, and Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?. Sea turtle soup was a standard in English cookery from 1751, when its recipe appeared in Hannah Glass's The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. The precious ingredient was not turtle meat, however--which was served as a proper turtle steak; rather, it was the 6 to 8 pounds of gelatinous material from under the top and bottom shells. Which is why the old recipes for mock turtle soup called for calves head--for that same gelatinous quality.
Turtle meat was proscribed in Leviticus 11:29--"These also shall be unclean unto you...the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind"--but Catholic monks, later, were to welcome this permissible "meat" to their Lenten tables.
The huge marine green sea turtle was around when dinasaurs were--but stayed relatively immune to predators until Man got so clever with his tools...and until Man and land animals developed such an appetite for turtle eggs, which are always laid on land beaches and so can be dug up and eaten, thus destroying future generations. The prehistoric Archelon (living 25 million years ago) grew 12 feel long. Even today, sea turtles cannot withdraw into their shells for protection--they depend on their size, their speed, and their unappetizing shells to survive.
Today there are 7 species left, the green turtle, the flatback, the hawksbill, the loggerhead, the Atlantic ridley, and the Pacific ridley (all in one common family) and the leatherback. Of these, 4 have been most exploited as food:
Generally speaking, turtles are the only reptile with a shell--and they number a total of about 250 species, living on land, in the sea, and in fresh water. (The name "terrapin" is given to some of the freshwater and salt marsh varieties.) Besides sea turtles, there are 6 other groups...and, yes, some of these not only CAN be eaten, but are GOOD to eat: