Mock turtle soup is an imitation turtle soup. It can be made with a variety of different meat sources and spices, and is meant to taste like green turtle soup, which was a prized delicacy years ago. It is not, as suggested by the Red Queen in the book Alice in Wonderland, made of "mock turtles." However, turtle meat is very hard to get and very expensive, so cooks developed recipes for a mock version of the soup so that it could be enjoyed by more people.
Green turtle soup was a popular dish in the Victorian era, especially in England. Even at that time, turtle meat was extremely expensive because the turtle meat had to be imported from the Cayman Islands. This meant that turtle soup was a dish that could only be eaten by the rich, and in fact it became a bit of a status symbol. It was frequently served in the homes of royalty and nobility, and was usually on the menu for important occasions.
Because of the expense of turtle meat, many people could not afford genuine turtle soup, so recipes were developed for mock turtle soup. Many mock turtle soup recipes appeared in cookbooks of the time. These recipes all used other ingredients in the place of the turtle meat, but the rest of the dish was prepared in a similar way. It was particularly important to use the right blend of spices to help get the desired taste.
Many mock turtle soup recipes used ingredients such as brains, feet, and other kinds of organ meat in place of turtle meat. One published version called for boiling a calf's head, removing it from the liquid and cutting up the meat, then straining the water. After that the recipe calls for adding wine and ketchup to the strained water, then thickening it with flour, putting the meat back in and stewing it for a while before serving. This same recipe also suggested that the eyes were a special treat, and should be handled with extra care.
In modern times, the turtles used for real turtle soup are protected in most parts of the world, so anyone who wants to try it will have to settle for the mock turtle soup variety. Some modern versions use standard beef instead of calf's head or other organs. There is a version of mock turtle soup popular in the city of Cincinnati in the United States. It's manufactured by the Worthmore Company and uses lean beef, ketchup, hard boiled eggs, and lemons. It is said to look like any other beef soup or thin chili, but to have a very unique flavor.