I’m going to try to prepare the most regionally distinctive and unique recipes that appear in each week’s Junior League cookbook.  By that reasoning, I ought to be making Cooter Soup this week, but for reasons that will soon become apparent, I cannot bring myself to do it.

I didn’t figure out what a “cooter” was until about halfway through the recipe, which made being told how to kill it all the more disturbing.  The ladies of the Charleston Junior League prepared this dish for Queen Elizabeth II during her 1957 trip to the U.S., and presented her with a copy of Charleston Receipts:

How could you chop off its cute little head?

How could you?

Cooter Soup

1 large or 2 small “yellow belly” cooters (preferably female)
1 large onion, chopped
Salt, to taste
2 teaspoons allspice
Red pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons dry sherry
4 quarts water
1 small Irish potato, diced
12 whole cloves
2 tablespoons Worcestershire
Flour to thicken

Kill cooter by chopping off head. Let it stand inverted until thoroughly drained, then plunge into boiling water for five minutes. Crack the shall all around very carefully, so as not to cut the eggs which are lodged near surface. The edible parts are the front and hind quarters and a strip of white meat adhering to the back of the shell, the liver and the eggs. Remove all outer skin, which peels very easily if water is hot enough. Wash thoroughly and allow to stand in cold water a short while, or place in refrigerator overnight.

Boil cooter meat, onion and potato in the water, and cook until meat drops from bones – about 2 hours. Remove all bones and skin and cut meat up with scissors. Return meat to stock, add spices and simmer. Brown flour in skillet, mix with 1 cup of stock to smooth paste and thicken soup. Twenty minutes before serving add cooter eggs. Add sherry and garnish with thin slices of lemon. Serves 6-8.

-Mrs. Clarence Steinhart (Kitty Ford)

Why Charleston "Receipts?"

Why Charleston "Receipts?"

So, I think we can add to the list of things I WON’T do for this project, alongside roasting a calf’s face, beheading terrapins and draining their corpses on my countertop. They are entirely too adorable.

This next recipe raises similar concerns. I don’t think my neighbors, or the City of Los Angeles, would take kindly to me building an outdoor fire of pine bark, much less delegating the task to Patsie. I think it’s interesting that the recipe for Otranto Pine Bark Stew includes specific instructions delegated to a specific person, who I assume is a household servant:

Otranto Pine Bark Stew
(as told to me by my Father)

Arise early and go on the Lake and catch about eighteen Big-Mouth Bass, Bream, or Red Breast.

Have “Patsie” make an outdoor fire of pine bark – then have her slice about one dozen Irish potatoes and about one dozen small onions.

Place a large deep iron saucepan over the fire and fry one pound of bacon. Remove bacon and leave grease in bottom of saucepan. Place a layer of sliced potatoes and then a layer of sliced onion in saucepan (using 1/3 of potatoes and 1/3 of onions). Cover with boiling salted water. Let simmer for 10 minutes, then place a layer of whole fish on top. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon curry powder on fish. Then place a second layer of potatoes, onion and fish and add boiling salted water to cover. Top with third layer of potatoes and onions. Place top on saucepan and cook very slowly all morning. It is done when the top layer of potatoes is soft.

SAUCE

Melt 1/2 pound of butter in saucepan. Add about 1/2 bottle of Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 bottle tomato catsup, 1 tablespoon curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Add to this several cups of the extract from stew and mix well. Pour sauce over Pine Bark Stew and place bacon on top and serve with rice. Serves 12.

– Louis Y. Dawson, Jr. (President of Otranto Club)

Up next:  For my last post with Charleston Receipts, I’ll prepare a menu of traditional Lowcountry treats, including she-crab soup and Awendaw.

Sources:  Junior League of Charleston, SC, Cookbook History

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