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As It Was: Turtle soup, anyone?

On New Year’s Day in 1882 in Jacksonville, 17-year-old Amalia “Molly” Britt received a special present from her older brother Emil. It was an imposing cookbook with the long title “Common Sense in The Kitchen; Treatise on the Art of Cooking Every Variety of Food in Common Use in a Palatable and Digestible Manner at a Reasonable Cost.”

One recipe was for turtle soup, a popular delicacy in fine restaurants in the latter part of the 19th century. A turtle farm located where TouVelle State Park is today helped supply the San Francisco market.

Molly Britt’s cookbook also had a recipe for mock turtle soup using a calf’s head, scalded to remove the hair. The horny part was cut into two-inch pieces and boiled until soft. After making a rich beef broth, the horny parts were added, along with Madeira wine, herbs, lemon and orange juices and thickened with flour and egg. The rich soup could be served with meatballs.

Another recipe was for a “portable soup,” made from the equivalent of today’s dried bouillon cubes.

A copy of Britt’s cookbook at the Southern Oregon Historical Society Research Library in Medford shows little sign of use.

Sources: Henderson, W.A.: “Common Sense in the Kitchen,” New York, Hurst & Co., pp. 29-30. Turtle Farm photograph provided by the Southern Oregon Historical Society, No. 4889.

As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.

The Palace Café in Ashland was not likely to have Turtle Soup or soup made with calf brains in the mid-1960s when this photo was taken. Southern Oregon Historical Society photo, image 7672