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

February 18, 1865 - The Dramatic Fall of Confederate Charleston

February 18, 1865 was the end of one era and the beginning of a new one for Charleston. For those of you "from off" who know that the Civil War--that is, the War Between the States--is a big deal in the South but you aren't really sure why that is after all this time, let me tell you a little story.

At that date Charleston had been under Federal Bombardment since August 8, 1863, a total of 587 days. Fort Sumter had been shelled even longer,  since April. General Quincy Gilmore with his Federal Troops, using African-American soldiers, had worked his way up the coast and had finally seized Battery Wagener and Morris Island . From there he commenced to bombard Fort Sumter at close range and the city at a distance using new technology, cannon with a rifled shaft. The rifling allowed cannonballs to be hurled as far as six miles, twice the previous range. These guns were aimed at the city and its civilian population. They were nicknamed "The Swamp Angels".

The civilian population in the lower city were ordered to evacuate as far north as Calhoun Street. People scattered to the countryside . The bombardment continued but the city refused to surrender. General Gilmore had taken a lot of heat for bombarding civilians in the Northern Press and in Congress, utilizing the same "Total War" approach that prompted Sherman to burn Atlanta. In May of 1864, he was transferred to the Army of the James and was replaced by Alexander Schimelpfennig, a Prussian with no reservations about the siege campaign.

The stalemate continued until the very end, and Charleston surrendered not because of Federal advances here but rather General Sherman's burning of Columbia two days earlier (February 16) which destroyed the last transmission lines between Charleston and the outside world.
Confederate General Hardee's orders were that in such a contingency he was to evacuate his men. And so, Hardee ordered his men onto boxcars at the Northwest Rail Depot at the corner of East Bay and Chapel Streets. Sherman had destroyed the rail lines west at Branchville, and north to Wilmington was the only option.

General Hardee was leaving nothing behind for the Yankees. Perhaps the city had resisted so long because of General Beauregard's "Ring of Fire" , eight batteries strategically arranged around the harbor that provided withering resistance to Yankee attempts to raid the Harbor from the ocean. Those guns had to go! They were spiked and deafening explosions were heard throughout the city even as word spread of the ongoing evacuation.

The departing army did, however, save the docks on the Cooper River. Cotton there was gathered and piled into pyres at Citadel Green, and there it was lit afire, a symbolic burnt offering to a way of life careening to a close. The eerie glow from the fire and the black pall of the smoke added to the sense of panic as people fled to the streets, rumors spreading that the Yankees were already burning the city as they had Columbia. Although that fire was a controlled one, docks and warehouses on the west side were set ablaze indiscriminately. On Lucas Street was a long shed filled with 1200 bales of cotton. That, along with Lucas' Mill containing some thirty thousand bushels of rice and R.T. Wilkin's warehouse at the foot of Broad Street were set ablaze and destroyed. The bridge west over the Ashley River was ordered blown up, and fire from that explosion set ablaze inhabited neighborhoods uptown. Confederates burned cotton warehouses, arsenals, quartermaster stores,  railroad bridges and two ironclads. It is ironic that as rumors spread of Yankees burning the city, it was General Hardee's orders that made the burning a reality.

And so the bitter cold, rainy night commenced with a spree of looting and vandalism. Rumors spread that the evacuating troops had left food on the platform at the train station. They had also left bad gunpowder. As a desperate populace stormed the Depot looking for food, children played with the gunpowder,  carrying handfuls across the street  to watch it flare in a makeshift fire. They created a powder trail that led back to the Depot and that flaming trail ignited an explosion that killed approximately 160 people instantly. Two hundred others were wounded. What irony that over 587 days of siege, only 53 persons had died as a direct result of the Federal shelling. Three times as many died on evacuation night. The Charleston Courier gives this description:

"The explosion was terrible, and shook the whole city.....The cries of the wounded, the inability of the spectators to  render assistance to those rolling and perishing in the fire, all rendered it a scene of indescribable terror."Charleston Courier 11/20/1865"
The fire could not be contained and consumed most buildings from  Chapel Street to Calhoun Street and from Alexander Street to Washington Street  with few exceptions.

Early the morning of the 18th, Lieutenant Colonel A.G. Bennett, of the 21st  U.S. Colored Troops,  received City Aldermen Gilliland and George Williams as emissaries from Mayor Macbeth, with a letter of invitation from the Mayor requesting that he take possession of the city and establish order. I can see the post script to the letter (BTW, General Hardee took the last train out last night)  Although General Schimellfennig was still here, ill with malaria,  Gilmore had arrived back in Beaufort on February 10, ostensibly to accept a pending surrender, a "save face/restore honor" move.  Imagine Gilmore's rage and disappointment to receive a letter of invitation from the Mayor! With no formal surrender and no sword to be handed over, Gilmore must have been a bitter man.

Nonetheless, Federal Troops moved in and took possession of the Arsenal just minutes before it was to be blown. The U.S. flag was hoisted over the Citadel, the Arsenal and the Customs House within two hours.Federal troops were put to work putting out the flames.The navy took possession of Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie within 24 hours. They were cautious because the Confederates had left dummies, or "automatons" standing guard to give the impression that the forts were still occupied.

 That afternoon the the Federal Troops entering the city were led by the Fifty Fifth Massachusetts Regiment, black soldiers recruited from the ranks of liberated slaves. Marching through the city they sang "John Brown's Body." Their standard was not the Stars and Stripes, but  rather  a flag which read "Liberty" was waived to and fro, much to the horror of the remaining white citizens. White Charleston was miserable and in desperate straits, the wealthy  having long since removed themselves from the city. With the exception of a few businessmen who stayed to protect their interests, only the poor remained. and they were confused and astounded by the jubilation of the blacks at Yankee occupation. Some 200 Confederate deserters surrender themselves, declaring that they were tired of fighting. Jacob Schirmer, a local white businessman, writes in his diary, "We have writ our own destruction, and now we must live with it".

The New York  Tribune reports that the city was surrendered at 9 AM on Saturday morning , February 18. The departing confederates had left behind two hundred guns and a fine supply of ammunition.

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

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The Charleston Slavery and Freedom Walking Tour is offered through Black History Month.

The Charleston Slavery and Freedom Walking Tour  is being offered Monday through Saturday at 1:30 PM through Black History Month  This is not a Gullah Tour, nor is it an African American Focus Tour. Highlighting the history of Slavery in Charleston from its inception with the founding of the colony , this compelling Charleston walking tour  provides context on life in Charleston for persons both black and white prior to the demise of slavery in 1865. For more information and to purchase tickets online go to or call 843 343 4851 to make reservations.

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