Al's Old Walled City Blog

Tour Charleston SC - Celebrate Charleston Food and Wine -enjoy Mock Turtle Soup!

The above is an excerpt from the Charleston Courier on March 22, 1865 recounting the Freedmen's Jubilee Parade, which featured a black man on a float with a woman and two children whom he was pretending  to auction off "for good Confederate money". He played his part with vigor and conviction, causing much mirth and merriment in the crowd of black faces.
The Charleston Food and Wine Festival is in full swing this weekend and I noticed that the Grand Opening Event featured a theme of recipes from Charleston Receipts, the first Junior League cookbook. In print since 1952,it is the Bible of Charleston cookery. The Post and Courier writer notes in Wednesday's Food Section  that the Grand Opening menu wasn't announced. She then proceeds to speculate on the soup choice. Deeming She Crab Soup to mundane, she speculates on a number of choices including a fish stew, an okra gumbo, or--mock turtle soup.
I have always been a fan of turtle soup. My parents would often visit the Doc and Nananne in New Orleans (my great Aunt and Uncle) and they would return with tales of delicious turtle soup. They brought back two cans of turtle soup for me to try. The rich, dark stew with a splash of dry sherry was absolute heaven to my 8 year old palate I have never forgotten it. And so, since I could not attend the Grand Opening, I decided to celebrate Food and Wine by  recreating  that taste of my childhood.
Mock Turtle Soup
But first, a little history of turtle soup. For many years turtle soup was considered the finest of fine dining. In the early 20th century, the Villa Marguerita , Charleston's finest hotel of the time, had a $20 bowl of turtle soup on the menu. Turtle meat was considered a delicacy, exotic because the meat comes from 5 different places on the turtle, all with different tastes. A large snapping turtle is said to contain seven distinct types of meat, each reminiscent of pork, chicken, beef, shrimp, veal, fish or goat. Locally, this dish of English extraction did not survive in Charleston households into the twentieth century. Although Charlestonians continued to hire black cooks, few were trained in making Eurocentric foods, and so the food ways that have survived and that we consider Lowcountry style generally have their roots in Africa, but not turtle soup..  
For many years sea turtles were the meat of choice, so the real thing was out of the question. Where to find turtle meat today? Of course, cooters are ubiquitous, but I live in an apartment, and dressing them would be an issue. I'm not sure that I am prepared to grab the head , chop it off and hang it upside down to drain. The high cost of sea turtle meat led to the creation of Mock Turtle Soup. Using the same rich broth and a variety of meats in the broth, Mock Turtle Soup imitates not just the flavor but the texture and look of the real thing. As an aside, I used chicken livers snipped into small pieces, and that dark flavor is absolutely correct,but you might choose to use dark chicken meat, even surimi (artificial crab) or mild fish filets for this.
Next, I had to find the recipe, so first I went to Charleston Receipts. Mrs. Alston's version found there  bears little resemblance to the soup of my childhood. Next  I searched the internet and pulled out of different recipes the ingredients that I remember as crucial to the thick, brown heady broth of distant memory. My creation is exactly as I remember it, and for that reason I share it with you. Doubtless, turtle soup fans will enjoy this tasty recreation! Bon Appetit!
Mock Turtle Soup                                           My Recipe Alfred Ray
1. To one and one half quarts of water add one pound raw lean ground beef and one half pound raw chicken livers sliced small, three bay leaves, 1 teaspoon salt.
Set to boil.
2. Take one half stick of butter heated with flour, brown to make a rue for thickening. Set aside.
3. Dice both fine and medium:
One yellow onion
One red bell pepper
Two stalks of celery.
Put these in two tablespoons butter on medium high for five minutes, and then high until vegetables are cooked with a char. Add this to the broth. Deglaze the pan with dry sherry, scrape bits and throw all into the  pot along with
One can beef bouillon
one cup tomato ketchup
One large can crushed tomatoes
Stir this all together and bring to a boil. Add to this
1 teaspoon each of allspice and thyme,3 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
Juice of ½ lemon.
4 eggs in shell
Simmer all together for at least 45 minutes, 1 1/2 hours is better. Remove hard boiled eggs and macerate .  Add back to thicken the soup. Add rue (step 2) to thicken to stew consistency.
To serve, plate soup piping hot  and garnish with parsley and dry sherry.

Charleston Old Walled City Tours offers public and private walking tours and driving tours of historic Charleston SC and the surrounding countryside. For information go to

Charleston African American History Tours - The fascinating story of Miriam Wilson.

Charleston walking tours are trending to include more African American History as well as Women's History. Miriam Wilson came to Charleston in the 1930s, a single woman from Ohio who amassed a collection of slavery related items. Her story is both unique and compelling. As a child, I clearly remember seeing the spiked collars. Come take my Charleston Old Walled City Tour or my Charleston Slavery and Freedom tour to hear the full story!

Charleston Shrimp and Grits - My Very Own Shrimp and Grits Recipe,

When I was younger , in a simpler time pre-Hugo, Shrimp and Grits was a Lowcountry breakfast dish. Of course today it has emerged as a signature dish along with She Crab Soup and Huguenot Torte. It is delicious, and there are numerous excellent versions to be found around town. The version at the Marina Variety Store immediately comes to mind for me. Since I made Shrimp and Grits today, and it looked so good in my cast iron skillet, I thought that I would share my version. It is simple, inexpensive, honest and maybe better for you than some other versions. Still, my version provides all the indulgence that a hot creamy plate of Shrimp and Grits implies. Please read through the recipe first, and note the ingredient list at the end. You will want to start the grits well before the sauce. Enjoy!

                                       Al's Shrimp and Grits
Set burner to 3/4 high.Place 1 slice of bacon plus 11/2 tablespoon canola oil in skillet, then start slicing.

I start out with the Holy Trinity----Onion, bell pepper and celery. The old recipes call for using a tablespoon each. That misses the point. Lets get some veggie fiber in breakfast!
so I use a small whole onion, sliced lengthwise and the chopped in half
three stalks of celery medium dice, hearts and leaves fine dice and reserved
1/2 bell pepper, chopped fine

Saute 5 minutes, Add 3/4 lb peeled shrimp, and then a tablespoon of flour , saute 3 minutes stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom. We're working on browning the flour for a roux.Add some more canola if you use too much flour.

Then add 1 cup or more of shrimp broth, 1 tsp of salt,a tablespoon of tomato paste,  an authoritative dash of cayenne pepper and reduce to a thin sauce. Combine 1/3 cup of milk and a teaspoon of flour, well blended together to form a thick liquid, and add to the sauce. Whisk it all together until you have a creamy sauce, then add finely chopped celery leaves and stalks finely chopped and three or four chopped raw shrimp.  The celery added at the last provides a bright crunch in the finished dish.

Cover the pot and remove from the heat. Wait 10 minutes.

For the grits, which were called hominy when cooked B.M.E. (before the modern era) ,  I prefer to use plain grits cooked with a little salt. Sometimes I use shrimp broth if I have it. I think of grits as a canvass in the painting. The secret to a good pot of grits is not to add cream or cheese. That makes grits different, but not always better. Good for  ham and eggs perhaps, I see those additions as superfluous fat and cholesterol when the intent is to place a creamy sauce on top. Plain  Quaker Grits is just fine. The secret is to forget the ready in 15 minutes on the box.A good pot of creamy grits takes at least an hour, and there should be a crust in the bottom of the heavy bottom pot that you always use to cook grits.

Grits can be cooked thin or thick. Since thin grits with a sauce turns into a soupy mess, thick is what I want to place a sauce on top.Its not a bad thing to turn over the spoon and the grits still stick to it.I
 was taught to cook grits the old fashioned way. I pour the grits into the pot, add a dash of salt, then I put water  in the pot up to the first joint of the index finger. Then I stir it and put it on high to boil, cover it, and reduce it to a simmer for an hour. Works every time.

Plate it by placing the hot grits on the plate, and mash a depression in the center with a serving spoon.
Ladle the sauce and shrimp over the grits. Serves three.

For three:
3/4 pound shrimp, peeled . four held in reserve
1 cup or more shrimp broth* see recipe at the end
1 small onion
three stalks celery, leaves and upper stalks reserved
1 small bell pepper --or red--or yellow
11/2  tbs or more canola oil
1 slice of bacon
1 tsp salt
cayenne pepper to taste
2 tbs  plus one teaspoon flour
1/3 cup milk
1 tbs tomato paste
optional: finely diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup

* for the shrimp broth, place shrimp shells in a quart container or a bowl, cover with water,cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for two minutes.

Charleston Old Walled City Tours offers public and private tours on foot or by car.
For information go to


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