The Food Almanac: Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Today's Flavor
It is Turtle Soup Day. Turtle soup is right up there with gumbo as one of the great potages in the Creole cooking catalog. The way we make it here is quite distinctive, not just in flavor but in texture, too. Like gumbo, it seems almost absurdly thick for the climate we live in. In most of the rest of the western culinary world, turtle soup is a clear, along the lines of a consomme.

The popularity of Creole-style turtle soup in New Orleans is so strong that two strains of it have appeared. The one popularized by Commander's Palace is distinctive in that it contains spinach as a major ingredient. The other, older kind contains a good bit of tomato. The outstanding example of that is the version at Brennan's on Royal Street, which is not only the best turtle soup in town but a contender for best soup of any kind.

The greatest obstacle to making your own turtle soup is finding turtle meat. Just in the time I've been writing about food, we've run through three species. In the 1970s, we used the green sea turtle, now absolutely off limits. For the last couple of decades, turtle meat came from farms of alligator snapping turtles. That industry has collapsed after it was discovered how slowly turtles grow. Now, most turtle meat is snapping turtle, from Oklahoma, Iowa, Virginia, or wherever else it can be found. The supply is tight. Which is why you don't see turtle soup as often as we used to.

The solution many restaurants found was to replace some of the turtle meat with veal or beef. Or not to use turtle meat at all. One of the most famous and best turtle soups–the one at Mandina's–is in the latter category. With the disappearance of turtle meat from commercial sources, this may be the future of turtle soup.

Deft Dining Rule #360
Always add sherry to the pot of turtle soup, but never to the bowl.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Turtle, Missouri is 138 miles southwest of St. Louis. It's a collection of three or four homes and farm facilities, far out in the countryside on highway N. Big fields are interspersed with patches of woods. The latter are part of the Mark Twain National Forest, a perfect environment for the many species of turtles that live there. Don't eat the box turtles: they eat poisonous mushrooms to which they are immune. You have to drive ten miles northwest into Salem to find a restaurants, and then you'll find mostly chains. An exception is the Red Hen Breakfast Cafe.

Edible Dictionary
turtle beans, n.–Another name for the common black beans cooked in Mexican, Cuban, and Southwest American kitchens–as well as in many other places surrounding the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. They probably originated in Mexico or Central America. A very dark brown (not quite black, but close), they're slightly smaller than red beans. They're widely available dried or canned. They are used as much for making soup as they are as a side dish.

Annals Of Stadium Eating
After being closed for over a year to repair damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and the people who evacuated inside, the Louisiana Superdome reopened today in 2006. And another opportunity to institute the vending of edible food in the big bowl was lost. It's as bad now as ever.

Annals Of American Leisure
Today in 1926, Henry Ford announced that the workers in his plant would begin working a five-day week of eight-hour days.That event is often noted as the beginning of the consumer economy in America. Many firms followed suit. Workers who'd previously had little free time before suddenly had not only leisure time but some money to spend on it. One of the things they bought was Ford automobiles. They also spent some of it in restaurants. It's no surprise that the next decade and a half was a time of great expansion for the restaurant business in New Orleans and elsewhere.

Wine In War
The Second Battle of Champagne began today in 1915. The French attacked the German-occupied wine country and fought for a month and a half. It resulted in a tremendous, useless loss of men and machinery of the kind for which World War I was infamous. The French wound up losing all the ground they gained shortly after.

Food In Science 
Today in 1974, a report came out identifying Freon, then used as a propellant in aerosol cans, as responsible for much depletion of the atmosphere's ozone layers. A movement to stop using the stuff for that purpose began. It gave us all a reason–as if taste weren't already enough–to stop eating aerosol cheese, whipped cream, and other foods we'd be better off making ourselves.

Food Namesakes 
George Salmon, an Irish mathematician whose main work involved surfaces, was born today in 1919.

Words To Eat By
"[It was] a soup so thick you could shake its hand and stroll with it before dinner."–Robert Crawford, British writer, who may have been writing about New Orleans turtle soup.