Mock turtle soup is mentioned in Lewis Carroll's well-known book, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." In this humorous story, the queen jokingly asserts that mock turtles are what mock turtle soup is made from. But since there is no such thing as a mock turtle, you might reasonably wonder what mock turtle soup is and what it is actually made from.
The history of mock turtle soup began with genuine turtle soup. In England, turtle soup was popular from the mid-1700s, reaching a peak of popularity in the Victorian era among the upper classes. It was considered a mark of taste and prosperity to serve this rich, gelatinous soup at a dinner party and was often served at formal, ceremonial banquets. Turtle soup was made from the cartilage and meat of the green turtle, which was imported from the Cayman Islands.
Since turtle meat was imported, rare and very expensive, chefs needed to find cheaper alternative ingredients to make this popular soup. They substituted other meats that mimic the qualities of turtle meat and, showing great honesty, named it mock turtle soup. Recipes for mock turtle soup were in existence as early as 1758, and it remained popular for many years.
The ingredients traditionally used to replace the turtle meat would not be palatable to most people today. The original mock turtle soup recipe listed calves head as the main ingredient, but calves' feet made an acceptable substitute. Some fish or oysters were added to mimic the slightly fishy taste of turtle meat. More modern recipes call for veal knuckles, beef bones, oxtail, ham and beef shin.
The main feature of mock turtle soup is the clear, full-bodied, silky broth, but a few other ingredients are important as well. Most recipes call for vegetables, such as onions, carrots, turnips, celery and tomatoes in small quantities. Herbs and spices typically added are thyme, marjoram, bay, cloves, nutmeg, star anise, allspice and parsley. Other ingredients include red wine or sherry, boiled eggs and lemon juice.
Mock turtle soup preparation usually begins with roasting the bones in the oven until browned, although some recipes skip this step. Then the bones and meat are boiled for several hours with some of the seasonings and vegetables. The resulting stock is then strained, the meat is removed from the bones and added to the stock with the remaining vegetables and other ingredients, and cooked until done.