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21 September 2010

Mid-Autumn Festival (and why I WON'T be making moon cakes)

Tomorrow is the celebration of the Chinese festival of Mid-Autumn (aka Moon Festival, Mooncake Festival). The Chinese use a lunar calendar (as opposed to our solar calendar) hence their New Year celebration always being different (sometimes a month out) from ours. According to this calendar, the moon is at its brightest on this night.

According to legend, the moon fairy leaves her crystal palace and dances on the moon's surface. This story of the "lady living in the moon" is an ancient one and supposedly dates back to when there were ten suns in the sky. The Emperor had a famous archer shoot down the offending nine suns. As compensation for his good deed, the archer was given a pill from the Goddess of Western Heaven that would make him immortal. His wife, however, found the pill, took it, and was banished to the moon. Legend says she is most beautiful on the night of Moon Festival.

There are several legends surrounding the Mid-Autumn festival, but the most famous may have roots in actual history. China was overrun by Mongols in the thirteenth century. It is rumored that they used mooncakes (which the Mongols did not eat) to pass around secret information pertaining to a rebellion. Everyone was instructed to save the cakes for Moon Festival. The rebellion took place in 1368 AD and China overthrew their Mongol oppressors.

When I first heard the name "moon cake" I was intrigued and declared I would make them. I then looked up a recipe for moon cakes. They're not impossible to make; they just require ingredients that I have no access to. In the easier of the two recipes I found, red azuki beans are used for a filling. I momentarily pondered using another type of bean for this but "black bean paste filled cakes" just didn't have the same, appetizing ring to it. A more complex recipe calls for lotus seed paste. Unfortunately, in the south, Ingles doesn't carry lotus seed paste. If any of you do happen to live in a town with a good Asian market, feel free to see some out OR you can always buy them pre-packaged. I'm going to keep an eye out next time I'm in Atlanta at the International Farmer's Market. I will of course report back my findings.

On our Western calendars, tomorrow is the Autumnal equinox or The First Day of Autumn. I don't know about you, but I'm definitely ready!

Happy first day of fall!
Jen

3 comments:

Brian Miller said...

what cool stories around the cakes..bet it would be cool to be there for the celebration...

Mary Aalgaard said...

Bring on Autumn. We'll enjoy the full moon without the cakes. Grocery restrictions are also my problem.

Water Proof Chicken said...

I read about moon cakes today at http://waterproofchicken.blogspot.com/2010/09/this-is-time-of-year-that-chinese.html#more