Better known as Terrapin à la Maryland, this vintage soup dish used as its primary ingredient the Diamondback Terrapin, a reptile that prefers unpolluted salt water such as the marsh and river systems of Chesapeake Bay. Colonists followed the Native American approach of roasting a terrapin whole on live coals. Later, it became a gourmet meal in soups primarily made from cream or butter and sherry.
Heavy harvesting depleted the numbers of wild terrapins. Whereas in 1891, some 89,000 pounds of Diamondback Terrapins were taken from Maryland waters, the annual harvest fell below 11,000 pounds after the mid 1950s. Maryland made the terrapin its State Reptile in 1994 and then passed a law to declare commercial harvesting of terrapins unlawful in 2007.
A typical old recipe might call for boiling a whole terrapin; cutting the meat into small, one-inch pieces; sauté-ing in butter, salt, pepper, celery salt, and paprika; and then adding sherry, cream, and egg yolks and bringing to a boil with a half glass of dry sherry before serving. To thicken the soup, corn starch might be added.