Rumpolt on Tortoises

I am still doing research for my book project on buccaneer cuisine. One of the foods that are mentioned in every account is turtle meat, and I was wondering to what extent the preparations described in out sources would have been informed by European traditions. A lot of buccaneer food is explicable by West European foodways meeting Caribbean resources. And indeed, while turtles – which are not native to Europe’s Atlantic shores – are not mentioned much, both Rumpolt and de Rontzier have chapters on tortoises. Here is Rumpolt’s:

This is a turtle, not a tortoise, from the mid-16th century collection of drawings by Felix Platter for the Historia Animalium – too pretty not to include. Courtesy of wikimedia commons.

There are nine dishes to be made of tortoises

1 Take the tortoises, set them to cook in water and add salt. When they are boiled, take them out asnd cool them. Remove the shells and dismember them nicely. Pepper, salt, and flour them well and fry them in hot butter. Serve it dry (i.e. without sauce) thus warm, with verjuice or fresh juice of sour lemons squeezed over them.

2 When the tortoise is dismembered and boiled, take hot butter, throw it in and fry it. Pepper it and colour it yellow, prepare it with verjuice and fragrant herbs and let it boil, thus it will be good and well-tasting.

3 Take the tortoises when they are boiled and cleaned (ausgebutzt). Pour pea broth over them, fresh butter, whole peppercorns, mace, and pounded ginge. Also add a little browned flour (eyngebrennt Mehl – roux?) and parsley root and let it boil together, and also with green, fragrant herbs. Thus it will be good and well-tasting.

4 You can also prepare the tortoises in a sauce (eynmachen) sour and with lemons, be it yellow or white, with pea broth, with verjuice and gooseberries (Agrastwasser und Beer), thus it is also good and well-tasting.

5 You can also prepare the tortoises in a pastry and bake them with lemons or gooseberries once their shells are removed and they are dismembered.

6 Take the tortoises, set them to cook with their shells and do not let them boil long. Then take them out and cool them. Take them out of their shells and let the shells stay in one piece on both sides. Chop a pike small, make a filling with it and fill the shells with that. Set them to cook with well-tasting pea broth, mace, and parsley root. And after it has boiled for a while, add fresh butter that is unsalted and let them boil with it. Thus it will be good and well-tasting.

7 You can also fill the tortoises with meat on a meat day.

8 Tortoises cooked black with carps’ bloods, be it sweet or sour, season them well.

9 Take the tortoises and hollow them out so that the shell stays together. Chop the meat together with eggs and green herbs, and add fresh butter. Fill the shells with it and boil them in a broth, be it sour or sweet, and serve them with the shells on. This is called filled tortoises.

There are not a lot of hot leads here, nothing that screams Exquemelin or Père Labat, but there are certain parallels. Also, recipe #3 is really kind of a tortoise chowder. We do not eat tortoises in Germany, I don’t think anyone in Europe still does, but these recipes make me curious.

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