Apollo Magazine

Mock turtle soup in the museum

Heston Blumenthal’s homage to the famous dish is served up in the V&A’s Alice in Wonderland show

The Mock-Turtle (right) in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (1865), illustrated by John Tenniel.

The Mock-Turtle (right) in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (1865), illustrated by John Tenniel. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

‘I need to take this recipe and make it properly Victorian – and to me that means trippy’. That was the madcap chef Heston Blumenthal, speaking on Heston’s Victorian Feast back in 2009 about his attempt to spruce up ‘mock turtle’ soup for a gang of celebrity diners (one of them was the broadcaster Richard Bacon, for whom things trippy and chelonian have absolutely no relationship).

Now Heston’s mock turtle soup has made it into a museum, with a display dedicated to this peculiar potage in an exhibition at the V&A that explores the legacy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Readers will remember Alice’s encounter with the mock turtle, a morose character with the head and hooves of a cow and body and flippers of a turtle – at least in the illustrations of it by John Tenniel, through which so many of the characters in the Alice books have passed into the cultural imagination.

Carroll had scooped the mock turtle out of the soup, as it were, a popular mid Victorian dish that used the head meat from a calf for its deep flavour and that became widely available after turtle soup went out of fashion (or after most of the available turtles had been eaten). Blumenthal is very much on board with cow’s heads: ‘let’s get this bad boy out of here,’ he said on the TV show as he prepared to fish one out of his cauldron back.

‘The Alice in Wonderland books have provided endless sources of inspiration for my work,’ says Blumenthal. So that’s where all the dormice and dodos went, is it?

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