Monday, July 12, 2010

Hoboken Turtle Club

I recently came across a fascinating history of what may have been America's oldest social club - the Hoboken Turtle Club. You can read the story here. Founded in 1796 the club's original purpose was to control the turtle population along the shore of Hoboken, on the Hudson River. Their chosen way to achieve this end was to eat the turtles, primarily in the form of turtle soup. The club was founded by John Stevens, a former Captain in George Washington’s Continental army. Among its early members were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Aaron Burr and Henry Clay. The club continued to function until the late 1930s, although its name was changed to the New York Turtle Club in 1892.
So what does turtle soup taste like? Here is how one member in 1887 described the experience: “ … you lay aside all earthly thoughts, forgive all your enemies, and forget all your creditors and put a teaspoon full of it into your mouth. Then you remove the spoon and shut your eyes, and your soul, on the wings of sensuous thought, passes outward into lotus land, and for a time you are lost in a dream that is so still, so perfect, and so all absorbing that you wish, lazily and sadly, it might never end.”

Surprisingly, too much turtle in turtle soup can spoil the taste, as the meat is so rich. According to one of the club’s most famous cooks, the main ingredients were vegetables including: potatoes, turnips, cabbage, radishes, peas, beets, tomatoes, cucumbers and cauliflower. Of course there were some other “secret” ingredients that he refused to divulge.

Fortunately for the turtle population in the United States, in most jurisdictions making turtle soup is illegal because many species of turtles are now considered endangered, and cannot be legally captured or killed. Turtle populations cannot quickly recover from the loss of a breeding adult, thus, killing these turtles to make soup can depress populations below sustainable levels.

The motto of the Hoboken Turtle Club was: “As we journey through life, let us live by the way."

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