No, I do not eat Turtle Soup. Although many years ago, sea turtles, especially loggerheads, were once fished in waters of the Outer Banks, as they were considered a prized ingredient for soup or stew.
As I explain in THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, catching sea turtles involved much cruelty that would be little tolerated today, though some Bankers learned to catch the 50-plus pound creatures by hand, diving into the water to grab their shells and wrestle them to shore.
This past week, I hoped to catch a sea turtle myself, on camera, as hopefully dozens of them would emerge from their sandy nest and awkwardly flip-flop their way into the water.
This nesting site was our destination for several of our power walks while vacationing at Atlantic Beach, NC last week. We learned from the volunteers sitting watch over the nest from 7 in the morning until 2 a.m. that this was one of 11 nests found within the Atlantic Beach township this year. Last year, there was only one.
The army of volunteers are with the Sea Turtle program based at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. Sea gulls and other poachers, like raccoons, like to pick off the newbies, we were told, so the volunteer "aunties" wanted to be able to "help" the baby turtles get to the water safely once they emerged from their sandy nest. They had erected a barrier fence on either side of a slicked -down sandy runway, and like an "auntie," would guide any baby turtles going astray.
These eggs were laid 62 days earlier. Most turtle eggs hatch between 55 to 62 days in North Carolina. Three babies had escaped two days before, we were told. So the volunteers didn't know if they had missed the hatching during the middle of the night, or if they had hatched during a severe thunderstorm that had run a volunteer and maybe their tracks off the beach, or perhaps, if the other eggs had yet to hatch, or even, sometimes the turtles get caught in the sand and struggle to get out, thereby getting low on oxygen. They also worried that either crabs or raccoons had feasted on the buried eggs.
If nothing had happened by Day 64, they would dig up the nest at 7 pm. I didn't mind giving up my sunset drink to witness this caesarean delivery!
|Anxiously Waiting for the Babies|
Donning sterile gloves, two volunteers carefully began to scoop sand away from the indentation in the center. "Oooh, I feel wiggling!" one said. The crowed oohed and aahed. As they went deeper, bits and pieces of broken shells were found. Carefully another woman picked the fragments out, some with the moist egg sack still attached. Five whole eggs were dug up. More broken shell fragments. But no live babies.
"That's it," one of the diggers said. A sigh of disappointment ran through the crowd.
"Hey," said the lead volunteer. "That means the rest of them made it out. That's a good thing!"
She then starting laying the shell fragments in a row, and there were about 82 of them. Eighty two hatchlings! Another walked around with the five whole eggs, showing us the yellowed, squishy shell that meant those eggs were no longer viable. She "cracked" each of them open, their yellow innards running out just as if they were a chicken's egg ready for the frying pan.
I hate to admit my disappointment in not witnessing their sandy little beings and their frantic hobble to the sea. There seemed to be an agreement among those in the know, the volunteers, that the babies had hatched during the storm, which had also washed away their tracks. The three that were seen early that morning were stragglers, not early risers.
Let's see this as a victory, my husband said. That means they escaped. They did what nature intended, without any help from us.
RECIPE ~ ~ ~ ~ SHRIMP BISQUE
Since I don't eat Turtle Soup, here's another classic and delicious recipe from the coast of North Carolina.
Any time you have to peel shrimp, save the shells in the freezer until you have a big bag full. Then make a simple stock: place the shells in a large pot, add a stalk or two of celery chopped up, about two carrots, and a small chopped onion. Cover with water, and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain, and you’ve got a delicious base for soups or to make grits for that classic shrimp and grits.
SHRIMP BISQUE ~ ~ ~ ~ from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, by Elizabeth Wiegand, 2nd edition 2013, Globe Pequot Press. (c)
Shrimp stock gives this soup an intense flavor. Add more shrimp to each serving, if desired.
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 cups shrimp stock, chicken stock or water
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 bay leaf, crushed
½ pound (2 cups) small shrimp, peeled and deveined, chopped in half
1 cup heavy cream
Garnish: sprinkle of paprika or Old Bay
- In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook for about five minutes, or until soft. Add garlic, and stir for one minute.
- Add shrimp stock, Tabasco sauce, salt, pepper and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes.
- Raise the heat and allow the mixture to almost come to a boil, then add shrimp. Stir, and cook until shrimp are thoroughly cooked, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Lower the heat, and stir in cream. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Continue to cook until thoroughly warm.
- Remove the bay leaf. Ladle the soup into bowls, and sprinkle with paprika or Old Bay, if desired.
YIELD: 4 generous servings