NEBRASKAland July 2016

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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76 NEBRASKAland • JULY 2016 A pair of old sneakers, a pitchfork and a sturdy burlap sack – that's all you need to look for snapping turtles, said Ben Rutten, a recently retired Commission biologist who goes turtle hunting with his family every summer near Cedar Rapids. While writing our book Hunting for Food, Rick and I were invited to one such hunt in July, and it was one of the gnarliest things that we've ever had the pleasure of witnessing. The both of us stood on the bank, slack-jawed, as Ben and his nephews pulled angry snapping turtles out of murky, hot swamp water with their bare hands. Held by the tail, the turtles would snap and hiss dangerously as they came up. We, along with the little kids on the bank, kept a respectful distance as the snappers were handed over to braver souls who place d them in burlap sacks. I asked the hunters if they've ever been bitten, and they said, "Oh, yeah," but nothing so serious that would scare them away from this summer family tradition. After the hunting, the live turtles were transferred into metal drums partially filled with water to allow them to "purge" for about a week. If you've ever caught a whiff of a freshly caught turtle out of a bog in mid-July, you'll understand why this step is so important. One of Ben's nephews showed us how to clean a turtle afterward, and it was a riveting experience, to say the least. We then went back to the Ruttens' barn for a picnic of steamed turtle prepared by Ben's sister, Kim, caught from a previous hunt. Before, I've been told by several people that turtles taste like seven different kinds of meat – including shrimp. Well, I think that claim is a stretch, but the turtle was delicious nonetheless. I thought it resembled different parts of a pig in taste and texture; you got your lighter, lean meat reminiscent of pork loin, and you got your darker meat that resembles that of pork shoulder or butt. You know when you boil pig's feet or hocks and the broth turns jelly-like as it cools? Snapping turtles offer the same property. I bet, if one tried hard enough, the possibilities could be endless – pulled turtle sandwiches, turtle terrine, potted turtle, turtle stew, Thai-style Turtle and Potato Curry Everything tastes great with potatos. Even turtle. By Jenny Nguyen A hearty Thai-inspired soup made of curry, coconut milk, homemade turtle stock, tender snapping turtle meat and yellow potatoes. PHOTO BY JENNY NGUYEN

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