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When I was a student at Wayne Community College in Goldsboro, I lived on what I could catch from the Neuse and Little rivers. Catfish was a mainstay of my diet. Occasionally, I was fortunate enough to catch a snapping turtle.
In the years since, I have caught snapping turtles on purpose or incidentally to hunting and fishing for other species. Sometimes I eat them, but most of the time I let them go. Last week I was near a creek in Pender County when I saw what appeared to be a half-rotten stump. As I passed it, the dark brown object moved. Turns out, it was a snapping turtle of around 12 pounds.
A snapping turtle strikes with the speed of a cottonmouth. Anything clamped in its sharp-edged jaws gets cut off. As I circled the turtle, it turned to face me. However, I outmaneuvered it, grabbed it by the tail and flipped it into the pickup bed.
I carried it home, secured it in the dog pen and put the dog in the house. The next day I began the process of turning it into turtle soup, a delicacy most country folk have dined on.
For renewed inspiration, I watched videos of people cleaning snappers on the Internet and studied various soup recipes. After checking them, I decided to use my old recipe as well as make another pot of soup with one simple variation. One source said turtle meat works well in any soup recipe and with that, I concur. I've enjoyed eating snapping turtle meat fried and boiled, with no other ingredients. When my wife's dearly departed father, Lewis Jobe, cooked it, he always said a snapper had seven types of meat.
Cleaning a snapping turtle deters many people from attempting to turn it into soup. Since it is a reptile with a primitive nervous system, after a snapping turtle's head is removed, it takes four to eight hours before the turtle's muscles no longer contract involuntarily.
Once I could clean the turtle without poking a knife into my hand, I cut the leathery skin, fore and aft, to release the front legs and neck from the shell in one piece and the rear legs and tail in another piece. Then I removed the skin from each section.
Normally, I cook turtle in a pressure cooker. However, for convenience, I used a crock cooker. After allowing the meat to cool, I removed the bones and it was time to prepare the soup. My soup recipe is similar to a clam chowder or a potato soup. All turtle soup recipes call for boiling any eggs if the turtle is a gravid female. I assume that is the reason for adding boiled hen's eggs in the alternative recipe. My turtle was a male. I cooked the recipes in two separate pots and the total amount of soup was two gallons.
Everyone who tasted the soup enjoyed it immensely, with my neighbor, Brian Millen declaring, "That can't be turtle meat because anything that ugly can't taste that good!"
As far as Lewis's observation that a snapper has seven different types of meat, I would say that the different appearances and textures depend upon which part of the turtle the meat came from. However, to me, it all tastes like turtle.
Snapping Turtle Soup
3 to 5 pounds cooked snapping turtle meat, deboned
1 gal. whole milk
1 stick salted butter
4 strips bacon, cooked until tender, not brittle and chopped fine
3 large celery stalks, chopped.
4-15-ounce cans of diced potatoes, drained, or four large potatoes boiled and diced.
(Alternative Recipe: Instead of potatoes, add 12 hardboiled eggs, chopped fine)
Salt and pepper
Cook and debone turtle meat. Heat milk and broth in large pot, but DO NOT boil or it will foam over the top. Simmer while stirring in ingredients. Add turtle meat last, after celery softens. Float dash of pepper on top and serve with oyster crackers.