A wonderfully old-timey soup that is absolutely not made of turtles, but rather ground beef (or ground turkey, if you prefer). Mock Turtle Soup has layers of flavor – but easy preparation – and a full-bodied texture to create a delicious and comforting bowl of soup!
I’m weird, and I sometimes spend quiet moments thinking about odd things. Like, the names of things, and how they mean nothing and precisely something, both at the same time.
Taco Bell, for instance. What does it mean, taco bell? Is it a bell that’s a taco? Is it the ringing of a bell that signals it’s taco time, as in “dinner bell”? But, when we speak the words, we never stop to consider its meaning. “Taco Bell” just rolls off the tongue, and it means, in its whole, the fast food restaurant.
And that, Soup Friends, is my awkward segue into Mock Turtle Soup. This is a soup from my youth that my mom made frequently, and that the family united happy around in rare show of dinner approval. (My sibs and I were picky eaters, one and all. How my mom tolerated that, I have no idea).
I never, ever thought about the “Mock Turtle” part of the recipe title. Not once, ever. It was like Taco Bell — just two words randomly strung together.
Because, if I had actually ever considered that we might be eating turtles, I would’ve run screaming from the house, leaving behind a Karen-shaped cutout of me in the front door.
I’m still, after all, the person who stops her car in the middle of traffic and gets out to help a turtle finish crossing the road. Which makes me happy to know that there are enough turtle lovers in my ‘hood that I have yet to be road-rage murdered for the effort, lol.
This is Scooter the Eastern Box Turtle, crossing my driveway after a heavy rain. He’s been a frequent visitor to my yard since spring (there’s a creek and woods nearby). Scooter is eyeing me distrustfully, one leg half in/half out of his shell, because I’m hovering nervously (peeking around the back of my car) to make sure he’s not headed out into the street (he wasn’t – Scooter remains alive and well).
I know now, as a grown-up, that Mock Turtle Soup is, of course, inspired by a soup that was once made with real turtles – Green sea turtles, to be precise, which are now endangered and not mere fodder for soup – but I can push that knowledge aside because I’m an adult, and I have this highly developed thing call suppression, where I stuff things that I don’t want to know deep into a cranial crevice and forget I ever knew it.
I don’t know for certain, but I think my mom took parts of several old recipes and combined them to make her own throw-everything-into-the-pot-and-let-‘er-rip version. And then I’ve tweak hers to create my own.
Here’s my Mom’s recipe, in her own hand:
I would’ve posted my Mock Turtle Soup recipe long ago, but the measurements in mom’s recipe (and in the other old-timey recipes I’ve found online) are based on quantities that don’t really exist anymore. “Small bottles” of unknown volumes, etc. Getting the ginger snaps right, in particular, ruined a few batches, lol.
I don’t have a fully formed memory of what ginger snaps looked like in my youth, but today’s are quite large – and they vary significantly by brand. For the very first batch I cooked after finding her recipe card, I dutifully added 30 ginger snaps, and about gagged at the result. It was very, very … gingery. Lol.
Ginger snaps both thicken the soup and add a subtle no-burn spicy heat, the way ginger does to Asian recipes.
So, I’ve had to resort to weighing the ginger snaps, which I realize is a pain for the American cook, for sure. If you don’t have a scale, try 10 or so snaps. It’s better for the soup to be under snappy than over.
Despite the strangeness of the ingredients, this soup is actually a great example of how layering flavors and textures creates a whole that’s better than the sum of its parts:
The beef adds chew and bulk. The ketchup adds sweetness and umami. The Worcestershire sauce adds umami and saltiness. The lemon contributes a kick of bright acid. The eggs add a lovely richness. And the sherry pulls it all together.
I hope you’ll try it. My mom would’ve been so pleased to know that a frequent dinner from her family-cooking days is living out there on the interwebs.
Mock Turtle Soup
- 1 1/2 pounds ground beef* (I use 90/10)
- 3 ounces ginger snaps
- 1/2 onion , finely chopped or grated
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 5 or 6 thin slices of lemon (seeds discarded)
- 3 hard boiled eggs , finely chopped grated
- 1 tablespoon sherry wine
- kosher salt
- Heat a 4 quart soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat (dry – no oil in the pan). Add the beef and brown thoroughly, chopping up the clumps as you go (a potato masher works great for this). The meat should be fine, not clumpy.
- While the meat browns, place the ginger snaps in a heat-proof bowl and pour 2 cups of very hot water over them. Set aside to soak.
- When the meat has cooked, examine the pot and decide if you need to drain the fat. Depending on the cut you use, you might not have to. If there’s a pool of orange fat in the pot, I would skim at least some of it off. It’s up to you, though.**
- Add the onions. If grating, you can grate the onions directly into the pot. Stir to mix with the beef.
- Pour in the ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. Season with the black pepper. Pour in the ginger snaps with their liquids and stir well. The mixture should be thick at this point, and look like sloppy joe sauce.
- Add water, one cup at a time, until the soup has thinned, which will take 4 to 6 cups of water. It should not be watery, but also more soup-like than sloppy-joe-like, keeping in mind that some of the liquid will cook off. I used 5 cups for the batch in the photos that accompany this recipe.
- Bring the soup to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to low-medium to maintain a tame simmer. Give one more stir to let everything settle.
- Lay the lemon slices over the top of the soup.
- Partially cover with a lid, and let simmer for 1 to 2 hours. Stir every 20 minutes or so to prevent scorching.
- Remove and discard the lemon slices.
- Stir in the sherry and hard boiled eggs.
- Taste, and adjust salt and pepper. If the flavor needs brightening – if it’s too sweet from the ginger snaps – add a teaspoon or two of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice.