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The Diamondback Terrapin

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The state reptile of Maryland, the diamondback terrapin, lives in brackish waters and swampy regions along the eastern coast of North America.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, the diamondback flourished in the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, providing an abundant food source to the developing area.  Originally slave labor food, the 5 to 7 inch long terrapins became a delicacy during the 1900’s, eventually fetching high prices in America’s finest restaurants.


Chesapeake colonists ate terrapin prepared Native-American fashion, roasted whole in live coals. Abundant and easy to catch, terrapin were so ample that landowners often fed their slaves and indentured servants a staple diet of terrapin meat. Later, in the 19th century, the turtle was appreciated as gourmet food, especially in a stew laced with cream and sherry. Subsequently, tremendous retail demand and heavy fishing of the terrapin nearly depleted its supply, and protective laws were enacted.


(1869) Barnum’s Hotel at the corner of Calvert and Fayette (dubbed the best hotel in the United States by Charles Dickens) holds a dinner for 17th U.S. President Andrew Johnson that features 90 items of Maryland cuisine, from elk to turtle.

Written by monumentcity

January 18th, 2010 at 7:57 am

Posted in All Posts,Reference