Comfort Food

Comfort Food

Lady Curzon's Turtle Soup

Mary Victoria Leiter was born in Chicago in 1870. Her father, Levi Leiter was a wealthy co-founder of Field and Leiter dry goods. Later, he was a partner in the Marshall Fields retail empire. Her family moved from Chicago to Washington D.C. in 1881. They lived in the former home of James G. Blaine on Dupont Circle. (Today, that is the only mansion remaining from the originals built in what is now a National Historic District.

Mary was taught by renowned tutors. Her governess was French, so Mary learned the language. She learned history, arithmetic and chemistry from a Columbia University professor. She was well traveled and had lived abroad. She was beautiful, brilliant, poised and charming according to writings of the time. She ‘came out’ in 1888 and after her debut, she was described as being superior to young women from more established families! Her best friend was older than she was … Frances Folsom Cleveland, the wife of President Grover Cleveland.

In 1890, Mary was introduced to London society. She met George Curzon, a member of Parliament. They married in 1895 and had three daughters.

In 1898, George Curzon accepted the position of Viceroy of India and Mary was given the title ‘Vicereine’, the highest title in the Indian Empire that a woman could hold. Some historians believe the the title of Viceroy of India was second only to the King of England.

It might take a thousand words to accurately describe Lady Curzon. She was loved by all. She was a gracious hostess and entertained in the highest fashion. She had great influence in improving health conditions in India and in creating hospitals and clinics. She learned the language. She was an avid spokesperson for trades from India including embroidered silk fabrics and encouraged artists to begin embroidering in a long forgotten way of the past. She is shown here in a custom designed gown for her attendance at the ceremony commemorating the succession of King Edward VII as the Emperor of India. The gown was designed to glimmer in the new electric lighting!

Lady Curzon died at the age of 36. In popular culture, it is believed that she and her three daughters are part of the inspiration for the fictional characters of Lady Grantham and her three daughters … and the inability to produce a male heir … in Downton Abbey, the television series written by Julian Fellowes!

She has had several things named for her ranging from a rose to a national park. It is a simple bowl of soup that we focus upon today!

The story of Lady Curzon’s Turtle Soup is humorous! Her husband had planned a banquet meal in honor of a visiting dignitary. The dignitary did not drink alcohol, but Lady Curzon knew the rest of her guests did! The servings of turtle soup had a final garnish of shredded greens and sherry! We don’t know how much sherry!

Because the recipes available for turtle soup bearing the Lady’s name call for canned turtle soup, with the addition of egg yolks and cream … and sherry … I’ve researched turtle soup variations from the 1800s and the early 1900s. I’ve prepared the turtle soup recipe that was used on the Titanic, with turtle meat provided by a friend who was tired of fighting with a snapping turtle that lived in his private lake! When I was a youngster, Mother fried turtle meat, so I am familiar with the work it takes to prepare one! In Escoffier’s (1846 – 1935) cookbook, the describes preparing a 180-pound turtle! He also details the fact that a few excellent companies were selling top quality turtle soup in cans.

When preparing turtle soup, slow cooking the meat until it is tender is a good first step. Many recipes suggest mincing the cooked meat but making a broth from the bones and the shell … then adding beef broth to the base. The vegetables added always include lots of onions, shallots, leeks … all of which will cut the wild gamey flavor of the meat. I have created my recipe by combining the best of all the recipes I’ve researched. It is good … and it doesn’t include turtle! We’ll call it ‘Mock Turtle Soup’!

Mock Turtle Soup for Lady Curzon

Three 6.5 ounce cans of chopped or minced clams
2 quarts of beef broth
2 Tablespoons of fish sauce
1 pint Half and Half (optional)
1 teaspoon roasted garlic paste.
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1 Tablespoon Curry paste
3 carrots
2 ribs of celery
1 sweet onion
A handful of fresh greens (spinach, collard, etc.)
Chopped hard boiled eggs
Additional greens cut in this strips
At least a Tablespoon of sherry for each bowl!

This may seem like a strange combination of ingredients but remember that Lady Curzon was in India where garlic, peppers and the spices included in Curry are extremely popular. The Asian fish sauce adds a salty, briny bite to the flavor.

Chop the carrots, onion and celery. In a heavy pot, sauté the vegetables in a little bit of canola oil. When the onions are translucent, add the greens and the quarts of beef broth and simmer until the vegetables are tender. This might take ten minutes. Remove the pot from the heat for about ten minutes to let the simmering stop, then use an immersion blender to nearly puree the soup. I say ‘nearly’ because you don’t want it to look like baby food … but with a little texture remaining. I like to be able to see the orange of the carrots and the green color of the greens!

Put the soup pot back on the burner and add the clams and their juice. Add the fish sauce, garlic paste, curry paste and the spices. Simmer for ten more minutes. Add the Half and Half just before serving.  Creaming the soup with Half and Half is optional.  I prefer it without the cream (as pictured here)  Garnish the soup with the strips of greens and chopped cooked eggs … and sherry. I like to taste the sherry, so I add it at the end. If you are serving children or adults who don’t want an alcoholic beverage, add a little sherry to each bowl before serving.

A little bit of foodie trivia! The Marshall Fields department store in Chicago is one of the very few reasons I used to enjoy trips to Chicago. City life is not for me … not even for a few days! The beautiful store was comprised of 73 acres of space! Did you know that Marshall Fields was the first department store to have a restaurant for their clients? My daughter and I loved to have lunch in the popular Walnut Room. We always loved to go at Christmastime … for the beautiful window displays and in-store decorations which included an enormous tree. In 2006 Macy’s bought Marshall Fields and it isn’t quite the same now … but we love our memories!

This article is part of my 2021 Foods Named after Famous People project! I’ll also share with a couple blog parties, so look at my short list on my sidebar. Enjoy!

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