Date Made/Found: Around 1800
Material and Medium: Old Sheffield Plate
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: 1969.28
This tureen was intended for the serving of soup made from green turtles, which were imported live from the West Indies in fresh water tanks. Turtles are now a protected species, but at the beginning of the 1800s, turtle soup was an extremely popular first course at dinner for the fashionable and wealthy. It was a particular favourite of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), whose greedy eating habits were notorious, and lampooned in the popular press. Turtle meat was very expensive and dishes made from this ingredient would undoubtedly symbolise social prestige and wealth.
A contemporary recipe describes one method of making turtle soup:
"First- cut off the turtle's head and stand it upside-down to drain. After it has bled well, scrub with a stiff brush. Drop into a kettle of boiling water to cover, and cook until the skin and upper shell peel away easily. Discard this water and cover the turtle with fresh water. Add the vegetables and herbs, and salt and pepper. Simmer gently for two hours then strain, reserving the broth. Remove shells and skin and pick out the meat, being careful not to break the gall sac (located in the liver). Cut the meat into small pieces and brown in butter. Blend in flour, then the strained stock and simmer it until tender. To serve, pour into a tureen with sherry and garnish with sliced eggs. If you prefer, float a few slices of egg on each plate of soup".
An average turtle weighs 60-100 lb. A single specimen could provide sufficient meat to satisfy a large group for the first course of a feast. In addition to soup, a number of side dishes and hors d'oevres made from the fins and gut could be prepared.
Families on more modest incomes could prepare 'mock-turtle' soup. This was made from a calf's head boiled in stock for a number of hours, flavoured with citrus juice and sherry.
Turtle soup at the Cutlers' Hall…
Turtle soup was a regular item on the menu at the annual Cutlers' Feast, held at the Cutlers' Hall. The turtles would be brought live into the hall, cooked and the soup served in their shells. Many of these shells adorn the walls of the Cutlers' Hall.
A similar tureen made from copper is held in the collection at Burghley House in Lincolnshire.