Delmonico's Recipes from a "Gilded Age"
An 1894 Thanksgiving Terrapin, a la Gastronome
from The Table, by Alessandro Filippini

Take live terrapin, and blanch them in boiling water for two minutes. Remove the skin from the feet, and put them back to cook with some salt in the saucepan until they feel soft to the touch: then put them aside to cool. Remove the carcass, cut it in medium-sized pieces, removing the entrails, being careful not to break the gall-bag.

Put the pieces in a small saucepan, adding two teaspoonfuls of pepper, a little nutmeg, according to the quantity, a tablespoonful of salt, and a glassful of Madeira wine. Cook for five minutes, and put it away in the ice-box for further use. Put in a saucepan one pint of Espagnole sauce and half a pint of consommé. Add a good bouquet, one tablespoonful of Parisian sauce, a very little red pepper, the same of nutmeg, and half a glassful of Madeira wine. Boil for twenty minutes, being careful to remove the fat, if any; add half a pint of terrapin and boil for ten minutes longer. Then serve with six slices of lemon, always removing the bouquet.

A look at the menus of nineteenth century restaurants shows that a vast majority of them offered a dish featuring Terrapin. It was most likely the Diamondback Terrapin that brought bliss to the palates of many a patron.

Terrapins are known to nest in coastal dunes or narrow sandy beaches from the gulf coast of Texas to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. First harvested by coastal Native Americans, terrapin was prepared by roasting it whole over live coals. Early colonists are known to have prepared terrapin in the same fashion. In fact, because it was abundant and easy to catch the terrapin was often the staple of a landowner's corps of slaves and indentured servants.

Terrapin meat ultimately came to be appreciated as a gourmet food. 1891 saw some 89,000 pounds of terrapin harvested from Maryland waters alone (incidentally, the terrapin is Maryland's official state reptile). Overfishing to meet retail demand brought the terrapin to the brink of extinction. Subsequently, protective laws have been enacted and some populations have been restored.